Are you a “supertasker”?

Do you consider yourself a “supertasker”? Think again. According to a new study out of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, only 2.5 percent of the general population has the ability to be a true “supertasker”. To test multitasking abilities, study authors Jason M. Watson, Ph.D and David L. Strayer, Ph.D, evaluated the ability of 200 participants to drive safely while talking on a cell phone.

First, participants were only assessed on their performance of simulated driving. The test was then performed again with a simultaneous cell phone conversation that tested memory and math skills. TechNews Daily reports that performance was evaluated in four key areas, including brake reaction time, following distance, memory, and math execution.

Only five “supertaskers” (three men and two women) excelled at operating the driving simulator while simultaneously having the cell phone conversation without any loss in performance on either task. Not only did they excel at each task, but their memory abilities actually increased by 3 percent.

On the other hand, the driving skills of the majority of participants suffered with the addition of the cell phone conversation. According to MedPage Today, it took these participants 20 percent longer to hit the brakes when needed and many failed to keep pace with the simulated traffic. Memory and math skills also decreased.

Study author Watson, says:

“…while we’d probably all like to think we are the exception to the rule, the odds are overwhelmingly against it. In fact, the odds of being a supertasker are about as good as your chances of flipping a coin and getting five heads in a row.”

MedPage Today also reports that Strayer and Watson do not believe this is fluke or the result of some being more experienced at talking and driving at the same time. They suggest that these individuals have a rare genetic or biological advantage when it comes to the ability to multitask, and they plan to continue their research on “supertaskers” in the future.

The study will be published in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin and Review.

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