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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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