September 8, 2009
With the advent of the Internet, cell phones, wireless email devices and portable music players, many of us wear as a badge of honor our ability to multitask. But not so fast – a recent study by Stanford researchers concludes the opposite of what we might think: those of us who frequently are inundated with multiple sources of electronic information do not pay as close attention, control memory, or move from one task to another as well people who tend to complete one function or task at a time.
As part of the study, titled “Neural Predictors Of Moment-To-Moment Fluctuations In Cognitive Flexibility,” the researchers conducted several identical experiments on two groups – people who generally multitask and people who usually do not.
The groups were shown images of certain types of rectangles in one experiment, and they were told to ignore certain blue rectangles while determining the positions of red rectangles across image frames. In this experiment, it was the non-multitasking group that performed better than the multitasking group.
In yet another experiment, the non-multitasking group once more performed better than the multitasking group in picking out repeat instances of alphabetical letters appearing in sequences.
In one more experiment, the non-multitasking group again outperformed the multitasking group when it came to following instructions to focus on certain letters or numbers when shown images of letters and numbers at the same time.
Intuition may lead people to think that a multitasking population would do better at these juggling experiments than a non-multitasking group, because they supposedly are used to and generally handle multiple streams of information. But science disagrees.
At the end of the day, it appears from the Stanford study that people who multitask are less able to focus and have trouble ignoring irrelevant information. Indeed, they appear to be easily pulled away from what is important and right in front of them.
So, the next time you plan on moving back and forth between emails, text messages, Facebook, cell phone calls, television, work assignments, home projects, personal interactions, and driving a car, please consider tackling just one of these tasks at a time.
Of course, your author certainly can learn this lesson, but he was only interrupted by two phone calls while writing this piece – it could have been worse!
Eric Sinrod is a partner in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris LLP (http://www.duanemorris.com) where he focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information technology and intellectual property disputes. His Web site is http://www.sinrodlaw.com and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To receive a weekly email link to Mr. Sinrod’s columns, please send an email to him with Subscribe in the Subject line.
This column is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author’s law firm or its individual partners.