Multitasking is Killing Your Productivity

By Robert A. Creo, Editor

Research has shown that multitasking can reduce productivity by up to 40%, but now brain scans show that switching from one activity to the other actually interferes with brain activity.

For the study, magnetic resonance imaging was used to measure different brain areas of the research subjects while they watched short segments of different movies. Sometimes the films were cut into 50 second fragments and other times they watched full 6.5 minute segments.

The scans were set to track the areas of the brain that are important in understanding narratives. The results showed that the brain works more efficiently when only tracking one task at a time.

The problem with multitasking is the it can feel good, despite being less efficient. Dr. Jaaskelainen, neuroscientist and one of the study’s authors said:

“It’s easy to fall into the trap of multitasking. In that case, it seems like there is little real progress and this leads to a feeling of inadequacy. Concentration decreases, which causes stress. Prolonged stress hinders thinking and memory.”

According to a 2014 study, multitasking could even be causing changes to the structure of the brain. The use of laptops, phones, and other media devices at the same time could be shrinking important structures in our brains. Neuroscientists revealed that people who use multiple devices simultaneously have lower gray-matter density in an area of the brain associated with cognitive and emotional control.

Iiro P. Jääskeläinen, et al., Neural mechanisms for integrating consecutive and interleaved natural events, Human Brain Mapping (Apr 5, 2017).

Kep Kee Loh & Ryota Kanai, Higher Media Multi-asking Activity is Associated with Smaller Gray-Matter Density in the Anterior Cingulate Cortex, PLoSOne (Sep 24, 2014).

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