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The myth of multitasking

Posting in Technology

Hey, Mr./Ms. Master Multitasker. Put down the phone, stop writing that email, and look away from Twitter for a second. You should hear this.

A new study from the University of Utah calls out all the self-proclaimed multitaskers out there. The take away? You're not as good at multitasking as you think you are.

“Our data suggest the people talking on cell phones while driving are people who probably shouldn’t,” said David Sanbonmatsu, a psychology professor at the University of Utah and co-author of the study. “We showed that people who multitask the most are those who appear to be the least capable of multitasking effectively.”

As the study's other co-author David Strayer, a psychology professor at the University of Utah, puts it: “The people who are most likely to multitask harbor the illusion they are better than average at it, when in fact they are no better than average and often worse.”

Ouch.

The study, published this week in PLOS ONE, focused on 310 university undergraduate students who were given tests to measure their multitasking abilities and questionnaires to determine personality traits, perceived multitasking ability, cell phone use while driving, and use of electronic media. Looking for correlations in the data, they observed:

  • Those who were the best at multitasking were the least likely to do multiple tasks simultaneously.
  • The more people multitask the more they "lack the actual ability to multitask."
  • People with personality traits with high levels of impulsivity and sensation-seeking were most likely to multitask.
  • Multitaskers do so because "they are less able to block out distractions and focus on a singular task," not because they're good at it.

Multitaskers (if you got to the end of this post) maybe it's time for some self-reflection.

[via io9]

Photo: Flickr/ryantron.

— By on January 25, 2013, 2:20 AM PST

Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure