New Research Suggests Heavy Multitasking Has Negative Effects On Attention Span And Memory

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Multitasking is a great skill, especially if you can do it without compromising on the quality of your work. However, new research suggests that juggling too many things at once could be detrimental to your "cognitive domains", especially if you're a "heavy" multitasker.

In a new paper entitled "Minds and brains of media multitaskers: Current findings and future directions", authors Melina R. Uncapher and Anthony D. Wagner found that while so-called "heavier media multitaskers" might get more done on the surface, they "exhibit poorer performance in a number of cognitive domains" compared to "lighter media multitaskers".

Wagner, speaking with Stanford Report's Sophia Bates, believes this performance deficit could come from "a higher probability of experiencing lapses of attention":

"One possibility is that reduced working memory occurs in heavy media multitaskers because they have a higher probability of experiencing lapses of attention. When demands are low, they underperform."

While Wagner goes on to say that "it's too early to definitively determine cause and effect" of multiasking from the study, it's well know that jumping between activities comes with a mental penalty, so we should have a "cautious" approach to multitasking in general:

...multitasking isn’t efficient. We know there are costs of task switching. So that might be an argument to do less media multitasking — at least when working on a project that matters academically or professionally.

If you’re multitasking while doing something significant, like an academic paper or work project, you’ll be slower to complete it and you might be less successful.

So think twice about spreading yourself thin. It might just pay to stay focused on single tasks... especially if they're big ones.

A decade of data reveals that heavy multitaskers have reduced memory [PNAS, via Stanford]


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