Multitasking & Cognition

"I was just thinking… which, it turns out, the brain does not like to do. At least not the purposeful, effortful, stay-focused kind. It’s work to think, to PAY attention. You literally do pay, in calories, for concentrating, and the brain is a calorie hog, using way more per pound than any other part of the body. And since we evolved back when there weren’t 7/11s and McDonald’s everywhere and the next load of calories was no sure thing, that three pounds of potential cognitive  firepower in our skulls has developed ways to mostly keep things on relatively lazy subconscious autopilot and leave the serious focused paying attention for when it’s really needed... As it is easier to overeat and overdrink and over indulge our physical pleasures than to do the work of going without, it is also easier to check your email whenever a message comes in, or your Twitter or Facebook feed every five minutes, or text a friend, or play some online game, than to stay focused on that one task or person you’re paying attention to at the moment."  - Psychology Today (March 2014)

"Students can’t resist multitasking, and it’s impairing their memory."  -  Slate (May 2013)

"Short interruptions -- such as the few seconds it takes to silence that buzzing smartphone -- have a surprisingly large effect on one's ability to accurately complete a task, according to new research led by Michigan State University. The study, in which 300 people performed a sequence-based procedure on a computer, found that interruptions of about three seconds doubled the error rate."  -  eScience News (Jan 2013)

"Is High-Tech Multitasking Making Us Dangerously Stupid?"  -  Psychology Today (Sept 2012)

"Ophir, Mass, and Wagner (2009) studied high and low media multitaskers, comparing their attention capabilities. One possible outcome is that people multitask because they are able to do it; that is, they can effective track and manage multiple things at one time. First, Ophir, Nass, and Wagner looked at people's ability to stay focused on one task and avoid having their attention captured by distracting irrelevant stimuli. What they found is pretty cool. On standard versions of tasks with few distracters, high and low media multitaskers performed equally. But add in distracters and the high media multitaskers were more severely impacted than the low multitaskers—the expert multitaskers performed more poorly. In contrast, the low multitaskers were better at staying focused." - Psychology Today (March 2012)

"One group was allowed to be online during a lecture and the other group was not. It turns out that the online group did check out some information related to the lecture content, but they also checked email, tuned into Facebook, and watched videos - all typical online activities. The second group had to listen to the lecture unplugged. The unplugged students performed significantly better on measures of memory and comprehension following the lecture. Similar studies have produced the same results. Frequent interruptions scatter our thoughts and erode our memories."  -  Psychology Today (July 2011)

"A recent article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) by three Stanford University researchers offers perhaps the most surprising result: those who consider themselves to be great multitaskers are in fact the worst multitaskers. Those who rated themselves as chronic multitaskers made more mistakes, could remember fewer items, and took longer to complete a variety of focusing tasks analogous to multitasking than those self-rated as infrequent multitaskers." - Psychology Today (March 2011)

"Background Music Can Impair Performance, Cites New Study"  -  Science Daily (July 2010)

"A new body of research has found that multi-tasking makes people less efficient and reduces the level of brainpower used for each task. Also, people who overburden their minds with too many tasks at once can have problems with short-term memory. " - Psychology Today (Dec 2010)

"a comparison of studies that examined background music compared to no music indicates that background music disturbs the reading process, has some small detrimental effects on memory, but has a positive impact on emotional reactions and improves achievements in sports." - SAGE (Nov 2010)

"Many people think they can multitask. It's true that you can walk and chew gum at the same time, but the reason is that these two tasks don't require your attention.[1] Tasks that involve language processing or decision making need your attentional focus, and when you try to do two such tasks at the same time, you end up switching your attention back and forth." - Psychology Today (May 2010)

"People who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information do not 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, a group of Stanford researchers has found." - Stanford University News (Aug 2009)

"Subjects completed a cued-recall test of the content of an expository prose passage read under quiet conditions or concurrently with the presence of one of two types of television content (prime-time drama versus commercials). Effects on immediate versus delayed recall were examined. Overall, significant deleterious effects of background television were found, controlling for prior abilities and motivation. Deleterious effects were stronger and more consistent when testing occurred immediately after reading, rather than after a five-minute filled delay. Background commercials resulted in more consistently negative effects than did TV drama." - Taylor & Francis Online (June 2009)

"Both groups did equally well at completing the program, but it was the people who worked in silence who tended to have the "aha" experience that the transforms netted to an identity transform. That is, the output was the same as the input. This was even true of those who claimed to prefer music but were forced to work in silence. Music apparently distracted the part of the mind that noticed patterns like this."  -  Cunningham & Cunningham (June 2008)

"Multitasking may be a necessity in today's fast-paced world, but new research shows distractions affect the way people learn, making the knowledge they gain harder to use later on." - USA Today (July 2006)  and  Science Daily (July 2006)

"An experiment was run to test the effect on reading comprehension of distraction by a television programme, which was presented while reading took place. Respondents, classified in terms of extroversion or introversion, carried out two reading comprehension tests in silence and in the presence of a television drama programme. As predicted, extroverts and introverts both performed better in silence..."  -  Wiley Online Library (Feb 2006)

"The 20 sixth grade students in this study averaged 7.1 ( 7th grade, 1st month) reading level with the television and radio off. These same 20 students averaged only 5.1 (5th grade 1st month) reading level with the radio on. The radio caused them to be more than 2 years BEHIND what they could perform normally. The same 20 students averaged 3.7 (3rd grade 7th month) reading level with the television on. The television caused them to be more than 4 years BEHIND what they could perform." - Oklahoma Academy of Science (April 1996)

"Performance was best in the silent condition and worst in the familiar music condition..."  -  Health Guidance

Clifford Nass

"After several years of studies, Nass and other Stanford researchers came to some disturbing conclusions. They found that the heaviest multitaskers — those who invariably said they could focus like laser beams whenever they wanted — were terrible at various cognitive chores like organizing information, switching between tasks and discerning significance.

"They're suckers for irrelevancy," he said. "Everything distracts them."

More worrisome to Nass was his finding that people who regularly jumped into four or more information streams had a tougher time concentrating on just one thing even when they weren't multitasking. By his estimate, "the top 25%" of Stanford's students were in that category.

In a 2011 lecture at the university, Nass said writing samples from freshman multitaskers showed a tendency toward shorter sentences and disconnected paragraphs.

"We see less complex ideas," he said. "They're living and writing in a staccato world."

Los Angeles Times (Nov 2013)

"How long can you go without checking email, or glancing at your smartphone? Clifford Nass, a psychology professor at Stanford University, says today's nonstop multitasking actually wastes more time than it saves—and he says there's evidence it may be killing our concentration and creativity too."  -  NPR (May 2013)

Multitasking & Depression

"Researchers from Michigan State University have for the first time linked using multiple forms of media at the same time to symptoms of anxiety and depression."  -  Medical Daily (Dec 2012)