Think that multitasking improves your performance and proves that you can juggle many things at once? Think again! A study at Stanford University has shown that media multitasking can affect your performance and damage the capacity of your brain. The Stanford study was designed to explore the effect of media multitasking on productivity. The way in which multitasking affects the brain activity indicates that ‘people who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information do not pay attention, control their memory or switch from one job to another as well as those who prefer to complete one task at a time’.
The issue here is that people who are used to multitasking are not using their brain to its full potential and might end up with something that can be described as an underperforming mind
Those people who are constantly juggling several tasks at once, such as checking their inbox, writing emails and posting on or checking social media have a number of characteristics in common. They are easily distracted, being unable to switch between tasks effectively and often have thoughts and memories that are disorganized. Communication Professor Clifford Nass, who was involved in the Stanford study, has called such media multitaskers ‘suckers of irrelevancy’. The problem is not only that the performance of such people is affected. The issue here is that people who are used to multitasking are not using their brain to its full potential and might end up with something that can be described as an underperforming mind. Here is a list of the few negative effects that media multitasking has:
- impairs performance
- reduces productivity
- lowers concentration
- makes it more difficult to select relevant information
- slows down the switching between tasks
In other words, the claim that those who multitask in the workplace are efficient is a myth. A study at the University of London shows that multitasking during cognitive tasks can lower the IQ by 15 points – to that of an eight-year-old. In this, it has a similar effect to the lack of a night’s sleep. It not only lowers IQ, media multitasking in social situations such as meetings, parties and other gatherings indicates low social and self-awareness. If you are in a meeting and are trying to write an email you should remember that risk presenting yourself to others as a socially-unaware individual. You also run the risk of writing that email at an IQ level of an eight-year-old.
…research suggests that media multitasking affects the area of the brain responsible for empathy, cognitive and emotional control – intelligence skills that are indispensable to success in the workplace and in your career.
Performance, productivity and social awareness are all external effects that media multitasking has on an individual, but what exactly happens to the brain and how is it affected? A neuroscientist at MIT, Earl Miller says our brains are ‘not wired to multitask well… When people think they’re multitasking, they’re actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly. And every time they do, there’s a cognitive cost in doing so.’ On a cellular level, research suggests that media multitasking affects the area of the brain responsible for empathy, cognitive and emotional control – intelligence skills that are indispensable to success in the workplace and in your career.
Doing less may, in this case, be more, and performing one task at a time might, in fact, mean that we are setting ourselves up for success rather than failure. Doing fewer things at the same time might mean accomplishing more. There are a few strategies that might help us achieve this. For example, it is more effective to set specific tasks and goals than to let yourself be distracted by the information and media readily available online. It would also make more sense to allocate time slots and to organise procedures for each task. For example checking your inbox, writing emails and checking social media could be set a specific amount of time or follow one another. Doing less media multitasking might well lead to a greater sense of accomplishment and less interference with the brain. So, next time you are trying to do many things at the same time, think of the damage that it has not only on productivity but also on the brain and its potential.