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Archive for Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Pay attention, multitaskers, if you can

August 25, 2009

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— The people who multitask the most are the ones who are worst at it.

That’s the surprising conclusion of researchers at Stanford University, who found multitaskers are more easily distracted and less able to ignore irrelevant information than people who do less multitasking.

“The huge finding is, the more media people use the worse they are at using any media. We were totally shocked,” Clifford Nass, a professor at Stanford’s communications department, said in a telephone interview.

The researchers studied 262 college undergraduates, dividing them into high and low multitasking groups and comparing such things as memory, ability to switch from one task to another and being able to focus on a task. Their findings are reported in today’s edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

When it came to such essential abilities, people who did a lot of multitasking didn’t score as well as others, Nass said.

Still to be answered is why the folks who are worst at multitasking are the ones doing it the most.

It’s sort of a chicken-or-egg question.

“Is multitasking causing them to be lousy at multitasking, or is their lousiness at multitasking causing them to be multitaskers?” Nass wondered. “Is it born or learned?”

In a society that seems to encourage more and more multitasking, the findings have social implications, Nass observed. Multitasking is already blamed for car crashes as several states restrict the use of cell phones while driving.

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