When co-workers claim they can do only one thing at a time, do you silently smirk from behind your multiple monitors and tabbed browser windows? Psychologists suggest you're the one who actually rates lower on straight-up memory and attention tests.
Photo by totalAldo.
Researchers asked study participants about their skills at multitasking, then divided them up into groups that had either high regard for their ability to tackle multiple tasks, then those who considered themselves uni-taskers. They then ran each group through three classic tests for memory and attention using letters, numbers and colours, shown in succession or together. Here's one example:
In a test of the degree of organisation of working memory, participants were presented with a series of letters, one at a time, and told to push a button when they saw a letter that they had seen exactly three letters previously.
Again, low multitaskers were significantly better at correctly spotting the repeated letters. Not only did the high multitaskers do worse from the beginning, they got worse at it as time went on.
As noted in the BBC's write-up of the study, there's no answer yet for whether the chicken or egg in this scenario came first. Does frequent multi-tasking actually dull one's ability to focus and concentrate, or is someone who seems to have a lower capacity for attention and memory drawn to a more compatible, quick-hit, multi-tasking work style.
We don't have those answers, even if we've previously pondered the stigma of "information overload." Got a guess as to why those who talk the game seemingly can't walk it? Tell us in the comments.