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Habitual Multitaskers Do It Badly 386

Posted by timothy
from the please-pass-the-toast-and-jelly-and-scalpel dept.
iandoh writes "According to a group of Stanford researchers, people who frequently multitask don't pay attention, control their memory or switch from one job to another as well as those who prefer to complete one task at a time. In other words, multitaskers are bad at multitasking. The research team is also studying how to design computer voices for cars that result in safer driving." Reader AliasMarlowe adds "The comparison involved multitasking with a number of attention or context related tests. For the study, multitasking was defined as consuming multiple media sources at once — gaming, TV, IM, email, etc. Interestingly, the habitual multitaskers were much worse at multitasking than the single taskers in these relatively straightforward tests. In self-assessment the multitaskers considered themselves good at it and the single taskers considered themselves bad at it. An extreme case of the Dunning-Kruger effect, perhaps, with consequences for business and society."
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Habitual Multitaskers Do It Badly

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  • When I multitask... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Kagura (843695) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @09:44AM (#29185783)
    When I multitask, I can feel the lack of attention that I'm devoting to certain things. For example, when I talk on the phone or text while driving. I mentally feel it.
    • by oldspewey (1303305) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @09:46AM (#29185815)

      text while driving

      Please watch this video [bbc.co.uk] and reconsider your habit of texting while driving.

      • by Kagura (843695)
        I'm not watching the video, but I rarely text while driving. It's stupid and I have only done it a few times.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Tackhead (54550)

        Please watch this video [bbc.co.uk] and reconsider your habit of texting while driving.

        ...and on behalf of your co-workers, friends, and family, this comic [macrochan.org] (SFW), and reconsider your habit of IMing your personal conversations and your work-related conversations.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by dlthomas (762960)

          A good example of why windows shouldn't steal focus, but rather irrelevant to the subject at hand...

          • by theaveng (1243528)

            They also shouldn't move your cursor. Oftentimes I'll type my name, then my password, but suddenly the cursor moves back to the USERID box and my password gets typed with full visibility.

            • by Richy_T (111409)

              This is poor web design and both my bank and Yahoo do this (annoyingly). A little bit of googling and there are some smart people out there who have devised ways to achieve the same thing (focus on the username box when the page loads) but avoiding doing so if the user has already started typing.

              For a company like Yahoo, there's really no excuse.

      • This happened right in front of me on the way home one night. The guy behind him reported that he was paying a lot of attention to a little box in his hand...

        http://www.flickr.com/photos/28154298@N05/sets/72157605928214101/detail/ [flickr.com]

      • Even more importantly don't text whilst listening to queen :)
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QggEvJAlV1s [youtube.com]
      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @10:22AM (#29186305)

        text while driving

        Please watch this video [bbc.co.uk] and reconsider your habit of texting while driving.

        I don't have time to look at it just now, but I'm usually bored while driving home, so I'll have a look then.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by spacefiddle (620205)

        Please consider never providing contrived works of fiction as "proof" for important issues.

        I can't stand this "scared straight" crap. It undermines the real issue by relegating it to the same level as any other movie special effects. It's like the "crack kills" campagins of the late 80s and early 90s. The only problem with extreme, over the top, graphic fakes is you're showing them to kids who watch graphic horror for fun and have, themselves, done exactly what you're telling them will cause Certain Doom

    • by Swizec (978239) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @09:49AM (#29185849) Homepage
      I multitask a lot, but I've only been doing it after learning how a computer does it - you know, that same computer INCAPABLE of real multitasking? Yeah, humans should do it like that as well.

      The trick is to use a divide and conquer algorithm on your tasks and divide them into chunks of just the right size - too small and you'll have too much overhead switching processes, too little and you'll essentially reach a dead-lock situation where everything is waiting for you to finish that one thing.

      What works for me is, for example, reading a chapter of a textbook, followed by a few minutes on slashdot and whatnot, then going back to the book and so forth ad nauseum.

      This way you're always multitasking without actually multitasking and you get a lot more done than just focusing on one task for a few hours, then on another for a few more hours and so on.
      • by TimeTraveler1884 (832874) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @10:19AM (#29186265)

        you know, that same computer INCAPABLE of real multitasking?

        So a pair of conjoined twins is like a Core 2 Duo?

      • by value_added (719364) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @10:29AM (#29186393)

        What works for me is, for example, reading a chapter of a textbook, followed by a few minutes on slashdot and whatnot, then going back to the book and so forth ad nauseum.

        Good for you on being able to schedule your time and attention productively, but the above isn't what I would call multitasking.

        It's been shown that the average attention span runs about 20 minutes. After that, you _will_ lose the ability to concentrate and your mind will naturally wander. This new period lasts about 5 minutes IIRC. Once that ends, you're refreshed enough go back to what you were doing with renewed concentration.

        Mind you, you're free to invoke "willpower" to circumvent that natural ebb and flow, but your performance will suffer, and you'll accomplish half the work for twice the effort. With enough motivation or adrenaline, you'll manage just fine, but like missing few hours from a restful night's sleep to cram more workhours into your day, you'll discover diminishing returns.

        So by all means, do browse Slashdot for a minutes. If your disciplined enough to avoid non-essential or otherwise unproductive activities generally, it'll help you work and get more done.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Swizec (978239)
          That's exactly what I try to do. Why waste those 5 minutes when you can shorten them to 2 minutes by doing something else and letting your mind wander effectively?

          The trick is to stop slacking quickly enough and it's really quite tough sometimes :P

          And yes, I know it's not really multitasking, but it looks like multitasking to the outside world.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by TheRaven64 (641858)

          It's been shown that the average attention span runs about 20 minutes. After that, you _will_ lose the ability to concentrate and your mind will naturally wander

          It's also been shown that it takes about 40 minutes to enter flow, at which point your productivity increases. Somehow, these seem contradictory...

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by c6gunner (950153)

            The 20 minutes thing generally refers to passive activities like lectures/speeches. It doesn't apply to activities which require active participation.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Rakishi (759894)

          There' apparently two different lines of studies that I've found:
          a) The human attention span is somewhere between 6-20 minutes then we zone out.
          b) Productivity takes 20-40 minutes to establish itself in humans. Interruption during that time cause stress and restart the process.

          I can only guess, without any evidence, that each is considering very different types of activities. A meeting may fall under the first while coding or writing may fall under the second. Maybe the activities considered in the second t

      • I don't consider that to be multitasking; your brain has a limited attention span, and even if you're capable of focusing for hours on end, your productivity goes down.

        If you take a quick break every hour/half-hour, you can keep your brain functioning at a higher level.

    • I feel it mentally too but I also feel it physically. For example, when you are driving up or down the winding track of a parking garage and you are not paying your full attention, or you are too fast, you feel a certain vibration in your nerves, in your hands or legs. It's something signalling to you that you are on the wrong. I feel that even when I am driving a bit too fast, or even when I am about to take a rash action (maybe make a phone call that I shouldn't be making for example) but its a very subtl
    • I keep seeing insurance-company ads about texting when driving, and wonder if anyone actually sends text messages at the wheel, as opposed to reading them or texting while a passenger?

      My father was an insurance detective, and often commented that the companies were constantly warning about quite imaginary perils...

      --dave

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Kagura (843695)
        I have sent texts at the wheel. It's annoying because you can only type a couple letters before you have to look up again. Reading a text you've received is equally annoying.

        Texting while driving is STUPIDLY UNSAFE and I only do it when I feel the situation has appropriate trade-offs (no cars close or medium-close in front of me, no turns in the road, importance of sending the text, etc.)
      • and wonder if anyone actually sends text messages at the wheel,

        Yes. I have personally seen a few people trying to text while driving. Not sitting at a light, while the car is in motion.

    • by tuxgeek (872962) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @11:18AM (#29187145)

      People that talk on their cell phones while driving, are obviously distracted and drive like they're retarded. Crashing into stationary objects isn't the only hazard these morons face. Pissing off other motorists and getting your dumb ass shot is also a possibility. I for one have felt this impulse on more that one occasion while following some imbecile, talking on their cell phone while trying to stay between the ditches.

      Personally, I am all for imposing very large fines for people using cell phones while driving. This is already the case on all military bases. I think it's time to place new laws to include all other roads as well.

      In your case, texting while driving: Your eyes are not on the road; Both hands are doing something else instead of piloting your large conglomeration of steel barreling down the road.
      I'm having some difficulty putting a suitable punishment for you, my friend. Any first thoughts I'm having are not good for you.

    • by russotto (537200) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @11:36AM (#29187413) Journal

      When I multitask, I can feel the lack of attention that I'm devoting to certain things.

      I would conjecture that those who feel they are good at multitasking do _not_ feel this -- and that's both why they feel they are good at multitasking, and why they are actually bad at it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by digitalgiblet (530309)

      This is total crap! I'm posting this, changing the CD and driving right now! I can certainly

  • Makes sense (Score:5, Insightful)

    by oldspewey (1303305) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @09:44AM (#29185787)
    People with attention-deficit problems are probably the ones who are most likely to attempt to multitask.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by maudface (1313935)
      "attempt"? It's not generally voluntary IME, I simply can't take my mind off any background stimulus while attempting to focus on something, background conversations, radio, television, a clatter of someone elses keyboard, I can't stop my focus drifting to all of them when I'm not medicated. Multitasking is indeed hugely overrated if it was practical ADD/ADHD wouldn't be considered medical conditions.
    • Re:Makes sense (Score:4, Interesting)

      by crazytisay (1283264) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @09:54AM (#29185923)
      Interesting results, but I find flaw with the tests. If we're really discussing two different types of absorbtion, purely visual and audio/visual, and the tests are made up of entirely visual questions, aren't the researchers tipping the scales in favor of the purely visual non-multitaskers? From the article: "A survey defined two groups: those who routinely consumed multiple media such as internet, television and mobile phones, and those who did not." The ones not consuming multiple media are consuming what? My guess would be books and newsprint, and if so, are they visual learners? How did they control for intelligence level? If the visual group is on average smarter than the audio/visual group, would that not also skew the results? More information is needed and less conjecture.
    • Re:Makes sense (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Junior J. Junior III (192702) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @10:10AM (#29186141) Homepage

      Conversely, I believe that being forced to multitask by my environment has created attention deficit disorder in me. I can't pay attention to things like I used to, and staying focused is very difficult for me. Even if NOTHING is demanding my attention, I feel like I have a compulsion to switch to a different task every few minutes. It's horrible. I used to be able to focus on a single task for long stretches, sometimes I could read a book for 14 hours or more in a day if I was sufficiently interested in it. Now, every three paragraphs or so, I feel like I want to check my email.

      • Re:Makes sense (Score:4, Insightful)

        by NewbieProgrammerMan (558327) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @10:33AM (#29186459)

        I used to be able to focus on a single task for long stretches, sometimes I could read a book for 14 hours or more in a day if I was sufficiently interested in it. Now, every three paragraphs or so, I feel like I want to check my email.

        I feel that way sometimes too, but I think it's partly because my standard for what's interesting is a lot higher than it was when I was younger. Consequently, (1) there's less stuff that seems worthy of that 12-hour focus marathon, and (2) it's likely that anything worthy is going to require more effort than the average worthy thing did when I was younger.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Matheus (586080)

          I just plain don't have the time to focus on any one thing for that long.. but anyway I digress:

          The same way a computer multi-tasks is exactly why I find this study is flawed. The preface the study by saying that they were trying to find out why multi-taskers could do so so well. They then threw out this premise by saying that these multi-taskers single threaded performance was low while forgetting that their group in question was known to be good at multi-tasking.

          I'll use, for example, a box I'm currentl

      • Re:Makes sense (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Cowar (1608865) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @10:34AM (#29186487)
        That's stress, you need a vacation. Take a good solid 2 weeks, you'll probably crash and sleep for the first few days, then get really really bored, and after the boredom clears up, you'll find that you can read a book for 14 hours again.
      • by Crash Culligan (227354) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @10:50AM (#29186717) Journal

        Have you noticed how many employers don't simply want, but insist that new hires be good at multitasking? That the successful employee will be not only able to manage several projects at the same time, but will jump from one to another like a coked-up spider monkey on command?

        Now, I admit fully to being resolutely anti-corporate, so it's only natural for me to look at this suspiciously. But I have to imagine that a whole lot of other people will see this as a disorder not just of the worker but of management, accepting sight unseen that multitasking, getting bits and pieces done on a whole lot of different projects in short order, is somehow more "efficient" (Hello? Changeover time?) than doing one thing to a good stopping point and then moving to another project when you're damn good and ready. It's especially a management problem if the management insists on mandating the changeovers, forcing employees to change gears without the clutch engaged.

        I can easily believe this sort of affliction can be inflicted. So I say let's study the possibility that ADD can be a workplace injury, to be covered by health insurance, and see how long this trend lasts.

        • I don't attribute this to malice.

          Ask someone: Which would you prefer: that you candidate be good at doing only one thing at a time, or that he be good at doing many things at a time? What do you think their answer is likely to be? More is more, isn't it?

          The problem is, the requirement going out doesn't get compared against the capabilities of actual working people.

          How it should go is like this:

          PHB: Find me someone who's good at doing lots of things all at once.
          HR: Can't; Tried, Looked, none exist. Pe

      • Re:Makes sense (Score:4, Insightful)

        by rolfwind (528248) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @11:24AM (#29187227)

        I think multitasking is detrimental in other ways. When it was a big buzzword and something taught in our studying class (yes, multitasking, as a strategy of getting studying done in your busy life... like in-between stupid timewasters), I just noticed how before when I could think through something like a challenging math problem or concept, even if it was hard to do so, I had to start relying more and more on the back of the book and work the answers backwards. If I tried to think too hard, I went into a mode looking for something else to do as an unconscious and unspoken excuse of "My head hurts, let's do something easier."

        Multitasking is sometimes a necessary evil, but companies and schools shouldn't be looking for ways to increase it.

    • by metlin (258108)

      Aye. I could never understand the need to multitask, and instead prefer to just do one task at a time. Of course, I do catch a lot of flak from colleagues and friends because I refuse to do more than one thing at a time.

      In fact, I cannot understand folks that listen to music and work -- I do like having my headphones on, but that's only because it blocks out the external noise that's distracting.

      Sadly, I'm probably in the wrong line of business since my job does require a lot of social interaction and I get

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Swizec (978239)

        In fact, I cannot understand folks that listen to music and work -- I do like having my headphones on, but that's only because it blocks out the external noise that's distracting.

        I'm one of those people who can't work in quiet places. How do you do it? How do you keep your paranoia of something jumping you from behind so low as to be able to concentrate in a quiet environment?

        Personally I need something loud to shut out the outside world, I don't actually process what I hear, I just use it to swamp my audio input so I can't hear myself think (for some reason I hate listening to my internal dialogues) and so I can disregard any audio input as simply being part of the din, thus being

      • In fact, I cannot understand folks that listen to music and work

        I think you're confusing listening with having music on as background noise. I have music on while I work all the time, but it doesn't mean I can ever tell you what song is playing or what the last song was. When I listen to music I focus on the music itself.

    • by tnk1 (899206)

      People with attention-deficit problems are probably the ones who are most likely to attempt to multitask.

      That and people with managers who are constantly sending fire drills their way, or people who have constant IM interruptions at work. I work somewhere where IM is actually a work tool, and I find that I tend to be a lot more productive when I forget to log in. Even if I tell people to go away, or to file a ticket, getting an IM really breaks up my workflow.

  • by LSD-OBS (183415)

    Can anyone make a quick summary for me?

    • by Xest (935314) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @10:49AM (#29186695)

      Basically, a guy wanted to find out what the differences are between those who multi-task a lot and those who don't, or feel they are unable to multi-task well.

      He set up an arbitrary experiment that supposedly tests your ability to multi-task and those who multi-task a lot did not do very well at his experiment, hence his conclusion was that multi-taskers are bad at multi-tasking.

      The problem I see with his experiment, and more importantly, his conclusion, is that he assumes the various tests he did actually are all that are required to judge someone's ability to multi-task - effectively he wasn't testing multi-tasking in his experiments, only performing phsycological tests that he assume are the traits that are required to be an effective multi-tasker.

      An experiment cited in the BBC article is one where there is a screen with 2 red rectangles and a number of blue rectangles which is displayed briefly and then the screen is displayed again and the subject has to say whether or not a red rectangle has been rotated. The link to multi-tasking in this particular experiment is weak, I can only guess the assumption is that to multi-task better you need to be able to track multiple objects on screen in detail but that seems to be merely speculation on behalf of the researcher.

      Doing research on this sort of thing is fair enough, but the fact they seem to have come to the outright conclusion that multi-taskers suck at multi-tasking seems quite a leap from what their research actually shows - that there's simply a statistical link between someone's ability to multi-task and how badly/how well someone can do in those specific experiments which in themselves may or may not tell us anything about someone's ability to multi-task.

      I would've thought a better experiment would, you know, involve multi-tasking? An experiment with say a simplified user interface where there are multilple blocks (Windows) where a basic task has to be performed in each but each has a differing time limit as to how quickly it must be completed. Simple, effective, and a good test of multi-tasking ability.

      But then, that might not have given them the results they wanted that would get them headlines that the world's media would blindly follow.

  • Bullshit... (Score:5, Funny)

    by hyperion2010 (1587241) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @09:46AM (#29185809)

    ... oh look, a butterfly!!!!!!

  • by snowwrestler (896305) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @09:46AM (#29185811)

    I think I have that bumper sticker on my...hang on, just let me check this e-mail...and get this call...

  • I cna raed slashhhdott adn work at the same tikme.





    syntx errer wtf???
    • I once took intermediate C++, Assembler, and Programming Languages(Pascal,Ada,Lisp,Prolog) in the same semester.
      Sometimes late at night I would code in an odd mixture of languages/syntax.

      I often wished it would work, but then I never tried in in a perl interpreter, so who knows.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @09:49AM (#29185843)

    ...because they know from experience that it produces better results. People who habitually multitask do not know how to do a better job, so they think they're good at multitasking. Single-taskers are probably under much more stress though as they aim higher even when multitasking.

  • Define "multitasking" so that people are bound to fail, then measure the failure.

    I define multitasking to include doing more then one task on my computer at a time. The trick is to start a long running BACKGROUND task and then do something requiring more attention in the foreground. It works very well.

    So, I call this study INCOMPLETE. the peole doing it were probably playing video games while measuring their data - LOL!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @09:52AM (#29185897)

    Note that one of the researchers behind this, Cliff Nass, was the brains behind Clippy.

    • Mod+3 (Informative)

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @11:03AM (#29186917)

      You've got a typo there. You said there were brains behind Clippy.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Bat Country (829565)

      Clippy wasn't an inherently bad idea - an assistive agent which used a library of tasks to try to accelerate common jobs and act as an interactive tutorial with options to skip. The problem with Clippy was that the fine lines between "helpful", "too helpful", and "really freaking annoying" move around with increased stupidity - and stupid agents are all we have to work with until somebody figures out strong AI.

      Agents like Clippy are used all the time to train people how to play video games - quite successf

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @09:53AM (#29185911)

    I'm a little puzzled by the tests.

    The last test seemed to test ability to move from one focused task to another focused task, each one consuming 100% of attention.
    I would expect a person with practice focusing on a single task to do well there.

    The first test involved focusing on one object while ignoring distractions. Many of the people who consider themselves multi-taskers have probably trained themselves to be high-novelty seeking and easily distracted. Not saying this is necessarily good, just not clear how this was testing multi-tasking.

    It seems to me a "multi-tasker" would do better at a test that actually tested tracking multiple inputs at once.

  • by jollyreaper (513215) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @09:59AM (#29185985)

    I can involve myself in one high-level function and monitor several low-level functions no problem. If I'm cooking and it's a recipe I know, I can have something on the telly in the background. Certainly not a movie or something that requires 100% focus but I can put the Daily Show or Colbert on no problem, just glancing over during the laughs to catch the sight gag. If it's a recipe I'm unfamiliar with, I have to focus 100%, no time for distractions.

    Driving is another interesting case. When I was first learning, I couldn't have the radio on or even talk with a passenger. It was a new skill and consumed 100% of my attention to a ridiculous degree. As I became more comfortable with driving, I could take a more relaxed approach. I can hold a conversation with a passenger. I'm still doing my sweeps, checking mirrors, instrument panel, paying attention to the feel of the road, listening for anything odd, but it takes less effort to do all these things. But when conditions become more interesting, it takes more effort to retain situational awareness. I'll lose track of the conversation. This is the opposite of the way most people do it, the conversation distracting from the driving.

    As a mostly monotasker, I'm very skeptical of multitaskers, bordering on contemptuous. It really irks me when I'm trying to work with someone who insists on multitasking to the point where you keep having to repeat yourself because he wasn't fucking listening in the first place. "No, I heard what you said. Just repeat it so I can understand." It's a sick, pathetic, constant pattern. I tell someone x is followed by y and z. They hear x and immediately ask about c. Well, c could be related in some instances but I already told you in this instance it's x, then y, then z. But wait, why is y there? That's the sequence. And then after several more rounds the person will exclaim with a sudden revelation "Why, this is x, then y, then z!" Of course, you numpty pillock. I've only been trying to tell you that for the last ten minutes. I'm going to rip that fucking bluetooth out of your ear, yank the battery from your iphone (they are removable if you use enough force) and make you focus for a goddamn minute!

    • by Lord Grey (463613) * on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @11:21AM (#29187175)

      ... numpty pillock.

      [citation needed]

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by green1 (322787)

      I think you have a good point here, the most important part of multitasking isn't how many tasks you do at once, but how well you prioritize, as different tasks start to use up more of your internal resources you have to know which tasks to drop and which to keep. This is a common problem, people who keep the cell phone conversation instead of the focus on driving for example.

      I used to work tech support, the majority of calls were dead simple and required very little thought on my part, it was quite common

  • No, not that kind of multitasking! I mean have they corrected for the difference between men and women?

    In our society, and in the hunter-gatherer societies that far preceded it, men's jobs demanded concentration and women's demanded social interaction. This may introduce a sex-linked bias into the experiment.

    --dave

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mcgrew (92797) *

      Men's jobs demanded social interaction as well, and still do. You can't take down a wooly mammoth with only yourself and a spear. The men hunted, the women gathered. That's why married men are always so exasperated by their wives' "Well LOOK for it!" Male brains just aren't wired that way.

    • sex-linked bias

      It's true while woman are able to hold many thoughts at a time, us men are focused solely on sex.

  • by Xenolith (538304) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @10:03AM (#29186041) Homepage

    Multitasking in humans is a myth. You might be able to rapidly switch between tasks, but processing more than one thing simultaneously can't be done.

    • by srobert (4099) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @10:15AM (#29186203)

      Damn! You're right. I was reading Slashdot and I forgot to breathe again.

    • [Citation Needed]
    • I guess it depends on your definition of "processing." Personally, I always found it impossible to play the piano and talk at the same time. I just can't do it...it's like there's an interlock between my speech center and the part that's keeping track of whatever I'm playing.

      However, I've known people that could do this with no problem. They could play, sing, pay attention to the performance of the rest of the band, and give direction to the band and sound guy as needed, seamlessly. Granted, they'd been

    • Multitasking in humans is a myth. You might be able to rapidly switch between tasks, but processing more than one thing simultaneously can't be done.

      And for all of us who are capable of walking whilst chewing gum, does that make us aliens?
      My dad had a stupid party trick. He could count out loud while multiplying three digit numbers in his head, and usually had the answer before he got to 50. Even my *dog* can run without hitting into things, while visually tracking a ball I've thrown and calculating when to jump to catch it. We multitask all the time when we need to.

  • Wow what a shocker... People who meditate do so to focus on ONE point and keep that focus for as long as possible.
    Everyone knows that a core problem with people is a lack of focus.... OH Look a Quarter!!! Anyway, where was I?
    Oh yes, the lack of attention and focus, And just how much did this study cost us?

  • You don't know what you're talking about. I multi...

    uh, What were you saying?

  • According to my wife (Score:2, Interesting)

    by KCWaldo (1555553)
    It is impossible for me to multitask. For instance I cannot watch TV and listen to her tell me to take out the trash at the same time. I think that it is possible to multitask though using different senses. For instance type while reading or listening.
  • by suso (153703) * on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @10:28AM (#29186369) Homepage Journal
    I originally had the first post to this article, but I got distracted and forgot to hit the submit button.
  • Bah... (Score:3, Funny)

    by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @10:28AM (#29186373)

    Not sure I want to make a T-shirt out of THAT expression.

  • I have long suspected this. I think people who believe they are good at multitasking give themselves the illusion that they are doing a good job simply because they are so busy. It has been my observation that many women, in particular, pride themselves on their multitasking ability, and are confident that they are excellent at each and every task, when in fact they are just doing a mediocre job.

    Pity the poor man who should ever suggest this, however.

  • ...Know your limits!

  • He thinks that because he can sit in a meeting and halfway listen to what is being said while reading emails on his blackberry, he is multitasking. And therefore, those who work for him should be able to handle several large, high pressure projects at once.

  • It's not the shiny buttons it's me trying to multitask!

  • It's like building a house of cards in an earthquake. It always comes falling down. Would you tell your surgeon that it was ok if he stepped out to work on other patients while he had you laying open on the operating table? This stupid myth that multitasking is a good thing is the one thing that has caused me more headaches and failure to get a job than anything else. They would ask me how good I am at multitasking and i would honestly say it was not something I could handle well. It breeds mistakes like
  • Yes and no (Score:5, Insightful)

    by joeyblades (785896) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @11:53AM (#29187671)

    Yes, I can multitask by reading a book and riding a stationary bike with no appreciable impact in performance of either. I can run and catch a football. I can walk down the hall and carry on a conversation. I can answer emails and listen to music.

    All of these examples involve one activity that requires attention and one that does not require attention.

    Where humans can't multitask is when two or more activities require attention. A classic example is driving and talking on a cell phone. Most people think that they can do this effectively. They are ALL wrong. They believe this because of two phenomena (1) for the most part, driving is fairly autonomous, only occasionally does it require attention (2) if your attention is on your phone conversation, you tend to miss those times when driving does require your attention unless something interrupts your attention like you have an accident or someone honks a horn at you for driving like a jackass. For the most part, these drivers are blissfully ignorant of their ineptitude behind the wheel.

    Most people who think they can multitask with other activities are wrong for the same reasons. I've yet to see someone with an open laptop in a meeting freely contribute to the process and often they force everyone else in the meeting to backtrack when their input is actually required.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by wytcld (179112)

      Analysis depends on where you parse your task units. Walking miles while focusing intently on the scenery and composing a complex poem and committing it to memory can be two separate tasks, competing for attention, or they can be one single task. Making them one task was the poetic practice of Wordsworth as well as of Wallace Stevens, Basho, and Gary Snyder. Similarly listening to the melody line of a single instrument may be one task, and listening to each of the other instruments in an ensemble separate t

  • by Greenisus (262784) <[michael] [at] [mayotech.com]> on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @12:21PM (#29188217) Homepage

    It's kind of ironic that the research team is also studying how to design computer voices for cars.

All life evolves by the differential survival of replicating entities. -- Dawkins

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