Weekly Digest #23: The Myth of Multitasking

Weekly Digest #23: The Myth of Multitasking

Depending on who you ask, multitasking is either a very important “21st century skill”, or a myth. One of us recently had to complete a job reference for a former student that included a question about the applicant’s ability to multitask. And yet, from decades of cognitive psychology research, we know that multitasking is impossible unless one of the two “tasks” is truly automatic. The resources below discuss multitasking from different perspectives – what it does to the brain, how it affects students, and whether it’s ever possible.

 

1) The True Cost of Multi-Tasking by Dr. Susan Weinschenk, @thebrainlady

Picture from Pixabay.com

Picture from Pixabay.com

In this article , Dr. Weinschenk explains why multitasking is so inefficient: because you’re never actually multitasking. Instead, you’re quickly switching between different tasks, which gives you the illusion that you’re multi-tasking. But this frequent switching actually wastes a little bit of time on every switch, and this gradually adds up to a lot of wasted time.

 

2) What people know about the cost of multitasking by Dr. Daniel Willingham, @DTWillingham

In this blog post, Dr. Willingham goes into detail about a multi-tasking experiment. The results of the experiment show that people underestimate how much doing an additional task will slow them down, although they do realize it will slow them down a bit. Dr. Willingham discusses how this might apply to the real world, where students multitask by watching TV while studying. At the end of the blog post, he suggests that even if students do know that watching TV while studying hurts their eventual grade, maybe they just don’t care enough to change their behavior.

 
Image from Pixabay.com

Image from Pixabay.com

Mike obbiss is a teacher who is now doing a PhD in Neuroscience and Education, so he is in the perfect position to discuss applications of cognitive psychology to the classroom. In this very thorough blog post, he goes into why multitasking is a problem for the classroom, and several ways of dealing with it. Should we just give up, and accept that students will multitask no matter what we do? Or should we create conditions that prevent students from multitasking?

 

4) Can you multitask on a treadmill? By Dr. Daniel Willingham, @DTWillingham

Image from linked source

Image from linked source

In this post, Dr. Willingham considers a set of studies that suggest you can walk on a treadmill desk without it affecting your cognitive performance. This is a conundrum because walking is not totally automatic, and multitasking is only supposed to “work” when one of the two tasks is automatic. Dr. Willingham discusses some possible reasons for these results and is cautiously optimistic about treadmill desks.

 
Image from linked source

Image from linked source

Do you ever talk on your cellphone while driving? Most of us do it at some point or another – but very few of us are realistic about what this does to our driving. In the study Dr. Coane describes in this blog post, only 2.5% of participants remained unaffected when they split their attention between simulated driving and another cognitive task.


Every Sunday, we pick a theme and provide a curated list of links. If you have a theme suggestion, please don’t hesitate to contact us! Our 5 most recent digests can be found here:

Weekly Digest #18: How to Blog About Education

Weekly Digest #19: Meet Other Edu-Bloggers

Weekly Digest #20: Plagiarism

Weekly Digest #21: Academic Blog Reading List

Weekly Digest #22: The First Day of Class

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