Human multitasking

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Human multi-tasking or multitasking is the performance by an individual of appearing to handle more than one task at the same time. The term is derived from computer multitasking. An example of multitasking is listening to a radio interview while typing an email. Multitasking can result in time wasted due to human context switching and apparently causing more errors due to insufficient attention.


[edit] Research on human multitasking

Since the 1990s, experimental psychologists have started experiments on the nature and limits of human multitasking. It has been proven multitasking is not as workable as concentrated times. In general, these studies have disclosed that people show severe interference when even very simple tasks are performed at the same time, if both tasks require selecting and producing action (e.g., Gladstones, Regan, & Lee, 1989; Pashler, 1994). Many researchers believe that action planning represents a "bottleneck", which the human brain can only perform one task at a time.

The term "multitasking" was originated in the computer engineering industry. It was used to reference the ability of a microprocessor, which is the brain of the computer. Multitasking means to process several tasks simuntaneously (from article "You say Multitasking like it's a good thing" by Charles J. Abate, March/April 2009 issue of NEAtoday). Microprocessors can't literally perform several tasks simultaneously. "They are inherently linear in their operation and can perform only one task at a time".

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans have revealed that superior multitasking performance is correlated with higher basal ganglia, anterior cingulate cortex, prefrontal cortex, and parietal cortex activity.[1]

[edit] Continuous partial attention

Author Steven Berlin Johnson describes one kind of multitasking: “It usually involves skimming the surface of the incoming data, picking out the relevant details, and moving on to the next stream. You’re paying attention, but only partially. That lets you cast a wider net, but it also runs the risk of keeping you from really studying the fish."[2] Multimedia pioneer Linda Stone coined the phrase "continuous partial attention" for this kind of processing.[3] Continuous partial attention is multitasking where things do not get studied in depth.

[edit] Popular commentary on practical multitasking

Multitasking has been criticized as a hindrance to completing tasks or feeling happiness. Barry Schwartz has noted that, given the media-rich landscape of the Internet era, it is tempting to get into a habit of dwelling in a constant sea of information with too many choices, which has been noted to have a negative effect on human happiness [4].

The idea that women are better multitaskers than men has been popular in the media, but there has yet to be a scientific study to confirm this. All empirical evidence seems to support the idea that both genders are equal in their ability to multitask.[5]

Observers of youth in modern society often comment upon the apparently advanced multitasking capabilities of the youngest generations of humans (Generation Y and Generation Z). While it is true that contemporary researchers find that youths in today's world exhibit high levels of multitasking, most experts believe that members of the Net Generation are not any better at multitasking than members of older generations.[6]

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ Leber AB et al. (2008). Neural predictors of moment-to-moment fluctuations in cognitive flexibility. Proceedings for the National Academy of Sciences.
  2. ^ Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter by Steven Berlin Johnson, p.61
  3. ^ Continuous Partial Attention
  4. ^ Schwartz, Barry (2004). The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less. Ecco. ISBN 0060005696. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ Carrier, L Mark, Cheever, Nancy A, Rosen, Larry D, Benitez, Sandra, & Chang, Jennifer (2009). "Multitasking across generations: Multitasking choices and difficulty ratings in three generations of Americans", Computers in Human Behavior, Volume 25, p483-489.
  • Gladstones, W. H., Regan, M. A., and Lee, R. B. (1989). Division of attention: The single-channel hypothesis revisited. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Experimental Psychology, 41(A), 1-17.
  • Pashler, H. (1994). Dual-task interference in simple tasks: Data and theory. Psychological Bulletin, 116, 220-244. [1]
  • Kirn, Walter (2007). The autumn of the multitaskers. The Atlantic Monthly, Nov. 2007 [2]

[edit] Further reading

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