I bet we all know someone who can send out a text, reply to an email, and watch TV not only simultaneously, but with ease. While the initial reaction might be jealousy for someone who can complete so many tasks at once, wait until you see the results from this new study out of Stanford University.
The study finds that people who multitask with several different forms of media do not focus, organize information, or switch from one task to the next as well as those who work on one task at a time.
The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, consisted of 100 students put through three different tests. For each test, the students were split into two groups – those who media multitask on a regular basis and those who do not.
In one test, both groups were shown sets of two red rectangles by themselves or surrounded by several other blue rectangles. The students, told to ignore the blue rectangles, had to determine whether the red rectangles in the second set were in a different position than the first. The group that rarely multitasks easily ignored the blue rectangles. The high multitaskers on the other hand? They were awful at it.
The next test was designed to test memory. The low multitaskers once again had a high performance. The high multitaskers didn’t do so well.
The third and final test would indicate if high multitaskers could quickly switch from one task to another. Each group was shown letters and numbers simultaneously, with the researchers telling them which group to concentrate on.
Once again, the low multitaskers performed better than the high multitaskers.
So why are multitaskers not doing as well? According to the study’s news release:
“When [multitaskers are] in situations where there are multiple sources of information coming from the external world or emerging out of memory, they’re not able to filter out what’s not relevant to their current goal,” said [Anthony] Wagner, an associate professor of psychology. “That failure to filter means they’re slowed down by that irrelevant information.”