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Multitasking: A Pathway to Failure

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John Tankersley

on 14 August 2014

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Transcript of Multitasking: A Pathway to Failure

The common misconception is that someone with experience juggling or managing multiple tasks should be able to more quickly and easily navigate between inputs while giving each the proper focus and attention it requires. However, the tests do not support this idea.

Tasks that may not be performed simultaneously

Memorizing a speech
Watching television
Talking on the phone
Listening to music containing lyrics
Applying makeup while driving
Multitasking Pitfalls
Multitasking as an Addiction
Four stages of addiction
(casual use)
Use of drugs, alcohol, texting, multitasking, etc. without experiencing any negative consequences (Example: talking on the phone while surfing the internet)
(intensive use)
Occurs when someone experiences negative consequences from multitasking (Example: missing the professor give a hint to a test question while on facebook)
Are we really multitasking?
Strategies to avoid succumbing to the pitfalls of multitasking
- Put distractions away
The Insatiable Lure of Multitasking
- Schedule time for different activities in the day
- Write down what you want to accomplish during your session
(compulsive use)
Continued multitasking in spite of the negative consequences experienced that begins to disrupt your everyday life (Example: after doing poorly on a test because of not paying full attention in class, you continue to text, surf the web, or play candy crush)
Tasks that may be performed simultaneously
Group 12: AKA Group Awesome
Compulsive use of multitasking regardless of the
negative consequences; the act of multitasking
now governs a persons behavior (Example: you
fail a course after continued poor exam grades
so you are forced to repeat. The first day of
class for the remediation, you are shopping online
while "listening" to the lecture)
-Megan Bender
-Courtney Kiel
-Michael Chilton

-Rubi Perez
-Jose Gonzales
-Jonathan Tankersley

Seeking increased productivity
Desire for more interesting topic

Working out while listening to music

Take Away Points
-Purpose to focus on a single task
Focus of a Frequent Multitasker
Testing shows that someone that often switches attention between multiple media inputs, rather than focusing on a single item, is more distracted by irrelevant stimuli when it is introduced.

Results 2/66
Results 1/66
Some tasks may require your undivided attention and should have priority over others, such as driving versus applying makeup. Operating a vehicle requires a high level of cognitive activity and should not be shared with other tasks. Also, different tasks create various brain networks depending on the nature of the activity (Calvert). Therefore, two tasks such as memorizing a speech and listening to lyrics both involve verbal memory, which may result in overlapping networks formed in the brain. Ultimately, one task will interfere with your concentration on the other. The latter tasks all involve a form of auditory stimuli, therefore making them cognitively incompatible.
Results 0/66
Results 2/66
Results 2/66
Social Media
Candy Crush

Available At
Your Fingertips

Studying while listening to background music
Doing household chores while watching a television show

Switch Costs
Selective Attention
Selective attention is the conscious (or unconscious) decision one makes when determining what to pay attention to from a mixture of messages occurring simultaneously (1).
Top-down modulation is the crossroads of attention and memory (2).
UCSF article discusses neural activity and that working memory decreases as a person tries to focus on a specific task with distractions present (2).
Condition worsens for older individuals even if they can anticipate the distractor (2).

1. "Selective Attention." Def. 1. The Free Dictionary Online, Collins English Dictionary, n.d. Web. 14 Aug. 2013.
2. Adam Gazzaley, Anna C. Nobre, Top-down modulation: bridging selective attention and working memory, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, Volume 16, Issue 2, February 2012, Pages 129-135, ISSN 1364-6613, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2011.11.014. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1364661311002476)
Task switching
- Swapping between different tasks

Anytime we interrupt our brain from performing a single task we are task switching, Example of this would when we start checking our email, Facebook, texts, etc., while performing another task, like studying, driving, etc.. We then lose our concentration on the specific task we were performing. We must return the focus of our brain back to performing the original task.
"You aren't actually surfing the web and concurrently listening in class. Rather you flip between the two, causing you to not only miss the facts in the unattended task, but also to suffer switch costs as you switch between the two." -Professor
Switch costs refers to the amount of productivity or revenue lost each time an individual switches his or her attention from one task to another.
-Learn from your mistakes
and the past

-Put away distractions
Research Tests of Task Switching
Attentional Control and Task-switching Costs Investigated by the Group Version of the Stroop Tasks
Stroop's definition- a phenomenon in which individuals are required to frequently switch among a small set of simple tasks, and immediately after switching tasks, the responses become substantially slower and usually more error-prone
Hypothesis: The brain needs time for task set reconfiguration
In Claire's case she switches from shopping for Jimmy Choo shoes to listening to lecture. Once she begins paying attention to the lecture it takes a certain amount of time to reorient her focus on the material again. This costs her a small amount of understanding and knowledge after each switch.
3. Watanabe M, Hakoda Y, Matsumoto A, "Attentional control and task-switching costs investigated by the group version of the Stroop tasks" The Japanese Journal of Psychology. Volume 1, issue 84, 64-68.
Why are these tasks cognitively incompatible
4. Gemma A. Calvert, "Crossmodal Processing in the Human Brain: Insights from Functional Neuroimaging Studies" Oxford Journals. Life Sciences & Medicine Cerebral Cortex Volume 11, Issue 12Pp. 1110-1123
The Final Results
Heavy media multitaskers performed considerably worse in both trials. They struggled not only with identifying and classifying when presented with a different stimulus, but displayed an inability to put aside previous information in order to refocus on the task at hand. This caused them to struggle with repeating stimuli as well. (5)
There was no significant difference between gender results.
(Watanabe, Hakoda,, Matsumoto)
What type of activities can be done while multitasking?

a. What are the different roles in learning of the brain areas mentioned?
Professor Poldrack mentioned the
, which is responsible for storing rich, complex memories of the past.
basal ganglia
is used during multitasking and is involved in learning how to build habits.
b. What other brain areas are involved in task switching?
The medial and lateral regions of the prefrontal cortex,, parietal lobes, cerebellum and other subcortical regions,, all were reported to have increased activity during task switching activities (monsell).
c. According to the interview, during what tasks is it ill advised to multitask?
It is ill-advised to multitask when you are learning new material or when performing a task that requires your undivided attention. A specific example was given of trying to learn a history lesson while texting or watching television.

d. "Modulation of competing memory systems by distraction", Karin Foerde, Barbara J. Knowlton, Russell A. Poldrack Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006. August 1; 103(31): 11778–11783. Published online 2006 July 25.
According to the UCLA psychology professor Russel Poldrack...
The Test
Participants were given a letter and number, then asked to sort them as vowel or consonant and odd or even, respectively, based on the cue given.
The response time between a switch trial and a non switch trial was recorded for HMM (Heavy Media Multitaskers) and LMM (Light Media Multitaskers). (5)

The test focused on people considered light or heavy media multitaskers, avoiding the middle ground.
Task Switching Test
In order to find a qualified group of research subjects, the people had to meet a certain level of similarity. A questionnaire was administered to determine the number of media devices the person typically used at one time. The results were used to identify people considered above and below the median. The participants were similar in cognitive control testing
as well as ability to designate attention to different stimuli. (5)
5. Eyal Ophir, Clifford Nass, Anthony D. Wagner. Cognitive Control in Media Multitaskers. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2009; 106(37): 15583 - 15587.
6. http://tony-wilson.com.au/blog/multitasking-makes-multitasking-worse/
Research shows that subjects are usually slower and more prone to error right after a task switch. (7)
In 2001, researchers conducted 4 experiments where young adults were asked to switch between different tasks like classifying geometric objects or working out math problems. The results show that for all the tasks performed, the participants lost time when switching from one task to another (8)
7. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/06/07/technology/20100607-task-switching-demo.html
8. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/06/07/technology/20100607-task-switching-demo.html
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