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Is Multitasking Bad for Your Brain?

Anuya Waghmare Mar 19, 2020
We have heard many times that instead of multitasking, we should only focus on the given task at hand, and then proceed to the next one. So, are human beings bad at multitasking? Let's find out!

Did You Know?

The term 'multitasking' developed in the computer engineering industry. It refers to the ability of a microprocessor to process various tasks simultaneously.
We do it all the time. Conversing on the phone while cooking, sending messages or emails while walking, watching TV while eating, or the most common-talking while driving. We proudly say we are good at multitasking and can handle two jobs at the same time. However, are we really good at it? And, is multitasking good for health? Or is it bad for your brain?
In a nutshell, multitasking is bad for the brain, and research suggests that people who boast about their multitasking abilities are, in fact, impulsive, less productive, and may not be as efficient as you think. In fact, multitasking can have harmful effects on your health. Keep reading to know more.

What Do Studies Say?

Research suggests that multitasking is bad for the brain, and harmful for our overall well-being. We all know the consequences of talking on cell phones while driving; studies suggest that you are four times more likely to have an accident at such times.
According to a study published in the Social Science Research Network in 2010, switching mindsets is exhaustive. So, instead, if you try using one mindset to complete a task, then switching to another will be less stressful, more organized, and improve your performance.
A study led by Dr. Etienne Koechlin from the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris, suggested that handling more than two tasks at once declined the accuracy and the ability to perform these tasks. When a third set was introduced, subjects slowed down and made many silly mistakes.
A study conducted in 2009 by Clifford Nass, Ph.D., along with others, at Stanford University, showed that those who multitask more were distracted by irrelevant information stored in their short-term memory. He also found that they were worse at multitasking and bad at switching tasks.
According to a 2009 study by Western Washington University, people who were busy doing two or more things at the same time did not notice some very obvious things that were present right in front of them. Thus, multitasking makes you lose focus and distracts you. Hence, information is not registered as it should be, and you miss out on small things in life.
According to a 2011 study from University of California researchers, interrupting one task suddenly to focus on the other makes you forget trivial details and can interrupt your short-term memory.
Division of your attention and focus can affect your creative thinking, according to a 2010 study from the University of Illinois, Chicago.
Multitasking puts a lot of stress on the body. A study measured the heart rates of employees with constant email access as against those without the constant message alerts. It found that the heart rate of employees with constant email access were higher, and prone to higher levels of stress.
Hence, it makes your life more stressful than it already is. Scientists also say, since multitasking involves concentrating on more than one thing, it can be an overload for the brain. Though research is still being done, various studies suggest that the human brain is bad at multitasking, and it adversely affects the working of the brain.

What Happens in the Brain When We Multitask?

People often multitask because it saves time, is less boring, and keeps them engaged.
According to research conducted by the University of Utah, frequent multitaskers are unable to focus on one thing at a time, are bad performers, and scored high on impulsive and sensation-seeking behavior.
Our brains are very bad at multitasking. A different state of mind or mindset is required to handle multiple tasks. Hence, juggling between two different mindsets, like handling a child and dealing with a client are two totally different things. It takes time for our brain to switch gears to handle a different state of mind.
Multitasking divides the brain, and it frantically tries switching itself from one task to the other. The tasks are divided equally between our two frontal lobes.

Effects of Multitasking

Multitasking slows you down as jumping from one task to another takes time. Adjusting and focusing on a different mindset may take longer than when you focus at only one task at hand.
According to experts, juggling between different tasks can cause up to about 40% loss in productivity. If one of the activities requires a lot of thinking and processing of critical information, then you are most likely to make more mistakes.
Most important is that, multitasking takes its toll on your relationships. If you are having an important conversation with your spouse and he receives a message or call on his phone, the entire link of the conversation is disrupted.
It is one of the major causes of barriers to communication, and may give rise to friction and mistrust in your relationship. And, of course, we all know the effects of talking or texting while driving; even using a hands-free device is as dangerous as drunk driving.
Research also suggests that using your cell phones while walking is dangerous, and can have harmful consequences.
So, humans are bad at multitasking, and hence, it is better to focus on the task at hand before moving to another task. This way, you will be more organized, alert, productive, and focused. It will, thus, prove beneficial for your health as well as your relationships.