Multitaskers are lousy at multitasking

9/365 - Multitasking MondayShocking news everyone: Multitasking doesn't work.  However, I really like that this study is published both as a brief article and a brief video describing the work.  The title of this entry is the last quote from the video.  Stanford study: Media multitaskers pay mental price reporting research from Eyal Ophir, Clifford Nass and Anthony Wagner.

Think you can talk on the phone, send an instant message and read your e-mail all at once? Stanford researchers say even trying may impair your cognitive control.

In case it isn't obvious, this is multitasking in the form of walking and chewing gum at the same time.  Or in the high-tech world, reading and listening to your iPod and watching TV and .... 

The article describes the researchers as being puzzled: On one hand, all the literature says multitasking doesn't work, but on the other hand there are people all over doing exactly what appears to be multitasking.  My guess is that much of the "multitasking" isn't actually that.  Some of it is just alternate inputs.  Have you tried working in a coffee shop?  If you don't have your iPod rolling, then you are subject to conversations at the table next to you or the musical selections of the coffee shop staff - sometimes a worse distraction than what you have under your control.

The real question is, "What is the solution?" or maybe "Is this a real problem?"  Do you tell people they are more effective at studying / working when they don't have the distractions?  Do you give up and design activities to account for the multi-input nature of the world?  On a more important note: what about research that looks at the daily stream of interruptions people face and strategies for overcoming them - particularly in the context of an organization.

[Photo: The hilarious photo montage "9/365 - Multitasking Monday" by nheeton]

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