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Habitual Multitaskers Do It Badly

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the please-pass-the-toast-and-jelly-and-scalpel dept.

Education 386

iandoh writes "According to a group of Stanford researchers, people who frequently multitask don't pay attention, control their memory or switch from one job to another as well as those who prefer to complete one task at a time. In other words, multitaskers are bad at multitasking. The research team is also studying how to design computer voices for cars that result in safer driving." Reader AliasMarlowe adds "The comparison involved multitasking with a number of attention or context related tests. For the study, multitasking was defined as consuming multiple media sources at once — gaming, TV, IM, email, etc. Interestingly, the habitual multitaskers were much worse at multitasking than the single taskers in these relatively straightforward tests. In self-assessment the multitaskers considered themselves good at it and the single taskers considered themselves bad at it. An extreme case of the Dunning-Kruger effect, perhaps, with consequences for business and society."

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When I multitask... (4, Interesting)

Kagura (843695) | more than 4 years ago | (#29185783)

When I multitask, I can feel the lack of attention that I'm devoting to certain things. For example, when I talk on the phone or text while driving. I mentally feel it.

Re:When I multitask... (5, Insightful)

oldspewey (1303305) | more than 4 years ago | (#29185815)

text while driving

Please watch this video [bbc.co.uk] and reconsider your habit of texting while driving.

Re:When I multitask... (1)

Kagura (843695) | more than 4 years ago | (#29185905)

I'm not watching the video, but I rarely text while driving. It's stupid and I have only done it a few times.

Re:When I multitask... (4, Insightful)

Scragglykat (1185337) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186413)

So what you are saying is that you are only stupid on occasion?

Re:When I multitask... (2, Informative)

theaveng (1243528) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186509)

This video is a good argument for why highways should have a dividing wall in the middle. This texting driver would have merely scraped that wall rather than pile into another car at ~120 miles an hour.

Another video worth watching is the one where a U.S. busdriver is texting, and slams into a stopped car on the interstate.

Re:When I multitask... (3, Insightful)

Richy_T (111409) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186621)

Another video worth watching is the one where a U.S. busdriver is texting, and slams into a stopped car on the interstate.

So I guess that makes a good argument for putting walls across interstates?

Re:When I multitask... (2, Insightful)

Tackhead (54550) | more than 4 years ago | (#29185965)

Please watch this video [bbc.co.uk] and reconsider your habit of texting while driving.

...and on behalf of your co-workers, friends, and family, this comic [macrochan.org] (SFW), and reconsider your habit of IMing your personal conversations and your work-related conversations.

Re:When I multitask... (2, Insightful)

dlthomas (762960) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186229)

A good example of why windows shouldn't steal focus, but rather irrelevant to the subject at hand...

Re:When I multitask... (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29186405)

How 'bout this XKCD, then? "Typewriter [xkcd.com] "

Same basic problem. Apps that steal focus are evil, but the root problem is distraction brought on by interrupt-driven media such as IM or texting. In a way, even a voice phone call is less interrupt-driven, so long as neither party has that infuriating call-waiting misfeature.

Re:When I multitask... (1)

theaveng (1243528) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186551)

They also shouldn't move your cursor. Oftentimes I'll type my name, then my password, but suddenly the cursor moves back to the USERID box and my password gets typed with full visibility.

Re:When I multitask... (1)

Richy_T (111409) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186667)

This is poor web design and both my bank and Yahoo do this (annoyingly). A little bit of googling and there are some smart people out there who have devised ways to achieve the same thing (focus on the username box when the page loads) but avoiding doing so if the user has already started typing.

For a company like Yahoo, there's really no excuse.

Re:When I multitask... (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29186305)

text while driving

Please watch this video [bbc.co.uk] and reconsider your habit of texting while driving.

I don't have time to look at it just now, but I'm usually bored while driving home, so I'll have a look then.

Re:When I multitask... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29186969)

lol

Multitasking just has to be done properly (4, Insightful)

Swizec (978239) | more than 4 years ago | (#29185849)

I multitask a lot, but I've only been doing it after learning how a computer does it - you know, that same computer INCAPABLE of real multitasking? Yeah, humans should do it like that as well.

The trick is to use a divide and conquer algorithm on your tasks and divide them into chunks of just the right size - too small and you'll have too much overhead switching processes, too little and you'll essentially reach a dead-lock situation where everything is waiting for you to finish that one thing.

What works for me is, for example, reading a chapter of a textbook, followed by a few minutes on slashdot and whatnot, then going back to the book and so forth ad nauseum.

This way you're always multitasking without actually multitasking and you get a lot more done than just focusing on one task for a few hours, then on another for a few more hours and so on.

Re:Multitasking just has to be done properly (1)

ThinkWeak (958195) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186257)

I would consider multi-tasking having multiple jobs going at once. This is a daily requirement in my field. I have to manage around 20 employees, streamline processes, stay on top of corporate projects, and still roll up my sleeves to help them with their daily work (due to cut-backs).

If they want to study how people multi-task, study some people who are actually working and not just watching tv or blogging.

Re:Multitasking just has to be done properly (3, Informative)

Swizec (978239) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186371)

I would consider multi-tasking having multiple jobs going at once. This is a daily requirement in my field. I have to manage around 20 employees, streamline processes, stay on top of corporate projects, and still roll up my sleeves to help them with their daily work (due to cut-backs). If they want to study how people multi-task, study some people who are actually working and not just watching tv or blogging.

So you've basically set up a combination of polling and interruption events? You do your own thing and once in a while check on background processes, or give them some attention if there's an interupt?

That's not multitasking, not really anyway. Real multitasking is being able to read while pouring a cup of tea. (for example)

Re:Multitasking just has to be done properly (5, Funny)

TimeTraveler1884 (832874) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186265)

you know, that same computer INCAPABLE of real multitasking?

So a pair of conjoined twins is like a Core 2 Duo?

Re:Multitasking just has to be done properly (1)

isama (1537121) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186453)

If that is true then I'm glad there aren't any octa or hexacore cpus yet :)

Re:Multitasking just has to be done properly (4, Insightful)

value_added (719364) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186393)

What works for me is, for example, reading a chapter of a textbook, followed by a few minutes on slashdot and whatnot, then going back to the book and so forth ad nauseum.

Good for you on being able to schedule your time and attention productively, but the above isn't what I would call multitasking.

It's been shown that the average attention span runs about 20 minutes. After that, you _will_ lose the ability to concentrate and your mind will naturally wander. This new period lasts about 5 minutes IIRC. Once that ends, you're refreshed enough go back to what you were doing with renewed concentration.

Mind you, you're free to invoke "willpower" to circumvent that natural ebb and flow, but your performance will suffer, and you'll accomplish half the work for twice the effort. With enough motivation or adrenaline, you'll manage just fine, but like missing few hours from a restful night's sleep to cram more workhours into your day, you'll discover diminishing returns.

So by all means, do browse Slashdot for a minutes. If your disciplined enough to avoid non-essential or otherwise unproductive activities generally, it'll help you work and get more done.

Re:Multitasking just has to be done properly (2, Insightful)

Swizec (978239) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186449)

That's exactly what I try to do. Why waste those 5 minutes when you can shorten them to 2 minutes by doing something else and letting your mind wander effectively?

The trick is to stop slacking quickly enough and it's really quite tough sometimes :P

And yes, I know it's not really multitasking, but it looks like multitasking to the outside world.

Re:Multitasking just has to be done properly (2, Interesting)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186893)

It's been shown that the average attention span runs about 20 minutes. After that, you _will_ lose the ability to concentrate and your mind will naturally wander

It's also been shown that it takes about 40 minutes to enter flow, at which point your productivity increases. Somehow, these seem contradictory...

Re:Multitasking just has to be done properly (1)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186617)

I don't consider that to be multitasking; your brain has a limited attention span, and even if you're capable of focusing for hours on end, your productivity goes down.

If you take a quick break every hour/half-hour, you can keep your brain functioning at a higher level.

Re:Multitasking just has to be done properly (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29186647)

Swizec, a Slashdot commenter, exhibits a confident and unaware ignorance typical of the Dunning-Kruger effect

Re:When I multitask... (2)

ashtophoenix (929197) | more than 4 years ago | (#29185989)

I feel it mentally too but I also feel it physically. For example, when you are driving up or down the winding track of a parking garage and you are not paying your full attention, or you are too fast, you feel a certain vibration in your nerves, in your hands or legs. It's something signalling to you that you are on the wrong. I feel that even when I am driving a bit too fast, or even when I am about to take a rash action (maybe make a phone call that I shouldn't be making for example) but its a very subtle vibration and I think you need some amount of sensitivity and habit to sense it. Obviously it can be very helpful and at times avoid calamities.

Texting while driving (1)

davecb (6526) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186039)

I keep seeing insurance-company ads about texting when driving, and wonder if anyone actually sends text messages at the wheel, as opposed to reading them or texting while a passenger?

My father was an insurance detective, and often commented that the companies were constantly warning about quite imaginary perils...

--dave

Re:Texting while driving (2, Interesting)

Kagura (843695) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186151)

I have sent texts at the wheel. It's annoying because you can only type a couple letters before you have to look up again. Reading a text you've received is equally annoying.

Texting while driving is STUPIDLY UNSAFE and I only do it when I feel the situation has appropriate trade-offs (no cars close or medium-close in front of me, no turns in the road, importance of sending the text, etc.)

Re:Texting while driving (1)

smooth wombat (796938) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186169)

and wonder if anyone actually sends text messages at the wheel,

Yes. I have personally seen a few people trying to text while driving. Not sitting at a light, while the car is in motion.

Re:Texting while driving (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29186313)

*puts hand up* - guilty as charged.

I had issues with the predictive text/lack of QWERTY keyboard on a blackberry 8100 pearl that I was testing for work - I got funny looks when I said at the team meeting that it was difficult to send messages while driving.

I know you were talking about text messages, and I am talking about e-mail - I see it pretty much the same when you're talking about doing so while driving, if anything this is harder cause I was sending (admittedly short) work e-mails so I had to use proper spelling/grammar.

Yes, bleeding hearts, I did this very infrequently and it was usually only one or two line max urgent work-related messages that I sent when stuck on a highway where I couldn't easily pull over. My wife yelled at me enough that I promised I'd use the phone instead.

I have a 8310 now with a full QWERTY keyboard so I can kinda type without looking at the device, and I have a few pre-canned responses added in as autotext which helps.

Re:Texting while driving (1)

c_sd_m (995261) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186775)

I keep seeing insurance-company ads about texting when driving, and wonder if anyone actually sends text messages at the wheel, as opposed to reading them or texting while a passenger?

Does sending email on a blackberry count? I've seen lots of people doing that at the wheel, including on their 10 minute drive home from work. I've also seen shaving, talking on a cellphone using both hands for gestures (probably steering with his knees), and a cyclist coming across a cross-street while either texting or dialing a cellphone (hard to be sure which). I'm sure insurance companies make up imaginary or rare perils but, at least where I live, texting while driving is definitely a real concern.

Makes sense (5, Insightful)

oldspewey (1303305) | more than 4 years ago | (#29185787)

People with attention-deficit problems are probably the ones who are most likely to attempt to multitask.

Re:Makes sense (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29185839)

Let's not medicalize this with "attention-deficit" bullshit.

They're just impatient gimme-gimme motherfuckers who want instant gratification and aren't willing to have patience to do a good job and wait for a reward. The sooner they half-ass the boring part, the sooner they get to fuck off and stuff their brains with Skittles, MySpace, and CounterStrike.

-- Ethanol-fueled

Re:Makes sense (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29185877)

Or people with bosses who put so much on their list of projects/tasks and change it so often that they don't have any choice other than to multi-task and to submit a purchase requisition for a prayer rug [dilbert.com]

Re:Makes sense (2, Insightful)

maudface (1313935) | more than 4 years ago | (#29185883)

"attempt"? It's not generally voluntary IME, I simply can't take my mind off any background stimulus while attempting to focus on something, background conversations, radio, television, a clatter of someone elses keyboard, I can't stop my focus drifting to all of them when I'm not medicated. Multitasking is indeed hugely overrated if it was practical ADD/ADHD wouldn't be considered medical conditions.

Re:Makes sense (4, Interesting)

crazytisay (1283264) | more than 4 years ago | (#29185923)

Interesting results, but I find flaw with the tests. If we're really discussing two different types of absorbtion, purely visual and audio/visual, and the tests are made up of entirely visual questions, aren't the researchers tipping the scales in favor of the purely visual non-multitaskers? From the article: "A survey defined two groups: those who routinely consumed multiple media such as internet, television and mobile phones, and those who did not." The ones not consuming multiple media are consuming what? My guess would be books and newsprint, and if so, are they visual learners? How did they control for intelligence level? If the visual group is on average smarter than the audio/visual group, would that not also skew the results? More information is needed and less conjecture.

Re:Makes sense (1)

Anonymous Cowar (1608865) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186461)

They probably pause or mute the tv when they get a phone call and turn off the tv when they have company over. They may have the radio on while driving but turn it off when they get a call.

Re:Makes sense (5, Interesting)

Junior J. Junior III (192702) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186141)

Conversely, I believe that being forced to multitask by my environment has created attention deficit disorder in me. I can't pay attention to things like I used to, and staying focused is very difficult for me. Even if NOTHING is demanding my attention, I feel like I have a compulsion to switch to a different task every few minutes. It's horrible. I used to be able to focus on a single task for long stretches, sometimes I could read a book for 14 hours or more in a day if I was sufficiently interested in it. Now, every three paragraphs or so, I feel like I want to check my email.

Re:Makes sense (3, Insightful)

NewbieProgrammerMan (558327) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186459)

I used to be able to focus on a single task for long stretches, sometimes I could read a book for 14 hours or more in a day if I was sufficiently interested in it. Now, every three paragraphs or so, I feel like I want to check my email.

I feel that way sometimes too, but I think it's partly because my standard for what's interesting is a lot higher than it was when I was younger. Consequently, (1) there's less stuff that seems worthy of that 12-hour focus marathon, and (2) it's likely that anything worthy is going to require more effort than the average worthy thing did when I was younger.

Re:Makes sense (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Cowar (1608865) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186487)

That's stress, you need a vacation. Take a good solid 2 weeks, you'll probably crash and sleep for the first few days, then get really really bored, and after the boredom clears up, you'll find that you can read a book for 14 hours again.

Re:Makes sense (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29186581)

Just FYI, what you describe is not the same thing as ADD. With what you describe, sufficient willpower will keep you on task. With ADD, you would unconsciously drift to another line of thought not related to the task at hand, only realizing what had happened after potentially several minutes.

But it looks so good on my résumÃ& (3, Insightful)

Crash Culligan (227354) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186717)

Have you noticed how many employers don't simply want, but insist that new hires be good at multitasking? That the successful employee will be not only able to manage several projects at the same time, but will jump from one to another like a coked-up spider monkey on command?

Now, I admit fully to being resolutely anti-corporate, so it's only natural for me to look at this suspiciously. But I have to imagine that a whole lot of other people will see this as a disorder not just of the worker but of management, accepting sight unseen that multitasking, getting bits and pieces done on a whole lot of different projects in short order, is somehow more "efficient" (Hello? Changeover time?) than doing one thing to a good stopping point and then moving to another project when you're damn good and ready. It's especially a management problem if the management insists on mandating the changeovers, forcing employees to change gears without the clutch engaged.

I can easily believe this sort of affliction can be inflicted. So I say let's study the possibility that ADD can be a workplace injury, to be covered by health insurance, and see how long this trend lasts.

Re:Makes sense (1)

metlin (258108) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186249)

Aye. I could never understand the need to multitask, and instead prefer to just do one task at a time. Of course, I do catch a lot of flak from colleagues and friends because I refuse to do more than one thing at a time.

In fact, I cannot understand folks that listen to music and work -- I do like having my headphones on, but that's only because it blocks out the external noise that's distracting.

Sadly, I'm probably in the wrong line of business since my job does require a lot of social interaction and I get pulled every which way (and having headphones on when I work is the surest way to grab attention the wrong way). But even then, I prefer to dedicate my time to any one thing that I'll be doing.

Except fiddling with my phone in boring meetings, of course.

Re:Makes sense (2, Insightful)

Swizec (978239) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186341)

In fact, I cannot understand folks that listen to music and work -- I do like having my headphones on, but that's only because it blocks out the external noise that's distracting.

I'm one of those people who can't work in quiet places. How do you do it? How do you keep your paranoia of something jumping you from behind so low as to be able to concentrate in a quiet environment?

Personally I need something loud to shut out the outside world, I don't actually process what I hear, I just use it to swamp my audio input so I can't hear myself think (for some reason I hate listening to my internal dialogues) and so I can disregard any audio input as simply being part of the din, thus being able to focus very well.

I think this is partly because most animals (humans are animals) have an instant override in their brain for sudden audio input, since that increases the likelihood of survival in a dangerous situation.

Re:Makes sense (1)

EastCoastSurfer (310758) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186473)

In fact, I cannot understand folks that listen to music and work

I think you're confusing listening with having music on as background noise. I have music on while I work all the time, but it doesn't mean I can ever tell you what song is playing or what the last song was. When I listen to music I focus on the music itself.

Re:Makes sense (1)

tnk1 (899206) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186329)

People with attention-deficit problems are probably the ones who are most likely to attempt to multitask.

That and people with managers who are constantly sending fire drills their way, or people who have constant IM interruptions at work. I work somewhere where IM is actually a work tool, and I find that I tend to be a lot more productive when I forget to log in. Even if I tell people to go away, or to file a ticket, getting an IM really breaks up my workflow.

Re:Makes sense (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29186507)

Uh, no. I have ADD type issues which is why I prefer not to multitask. I can't multitask for shit. If I have to do anything other than what I'm working on, even for a split second, I will probably lose focus and not be able to complete the original task because I find it impossible to get back in the groove.

I take this to extremes, I can barely eat/sleep/whatever and work on a task. I need and want 100% focus on a single task at a time.

tl;dr (1)

LSD-OBS (183415) | more than 4 years ago | (#29185793)

Can anyone make a quick summary for me?

Re:tl;dr (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29185881)

I could, but I'm doing something else at the moment, so it wouldn't be that good.

Yes, it's a load of bollocks basically. (4, Informative)

Xest (935314) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186695)

Basically, a guy wanted to find out what the differences are between those who multi-task a lot and those who don't, or feel they are unable to multi-task well.

He set up an arbitrary experiment that supposedly tests your ability to multi-task and those who multi-task a lot did not do very well at his experiment, hence his conclusion was that multi-taskers are bad at multi-tasking.

The problem I see with his experiment, and more importantly, his conclusion, is that he assumes the various tests he did actually are all that are required to judge someone's ability to multi-task - effectively he wasn't testing multi-tasking in his experiments, only performing phsycological tests that he assume are the traits that are required to be an effective multi-tasker.

An experiment cited in the BBC article is one where there is a screen with 2 red rectangles and a number of blue rectangles which is displayed briefly and then the screen is displayed again and the subject has to say whether or not a red rectangle has been rotated. The link to multi-tasking in this particular experiment is weak, I can only guess the assumption is that to multi-task better you need to be able to track multiple objects on screen in detail but that seems to be merely speculation on behalf of the researcher.

Doing research on this sort of thing is fair enough, but the fact they seem to have come to the outright conclusion that multi-taskers suck at multi-tasking seems quite a leap from what their research actually shows - that there's simply a statistical link between someone's ability to multi-task and how badly/how well someone can do in those specific experiments which in themselves may or may not tell us anything about someone's ability to multi-task.

I would've thought a better experiment would, you know, involve multi-tasking? An experiment with say a simplified user interface where there are multilple blocks (Windows) where a basic task has to be performed in each but each has a differing time limit as to how quickly it must be completed. Simple, effective, and a good test of multi-tasking ability.

But then, that might not have given them the results they wanted that would get them headlines that the world's media would blindly follow.

Bullshit... (5, Funny)

hyperion2010 (1587241) | more than 4 years ago | (#29185809)

... oh look, a butterfly!!!!!!

Re:Bullshit... (2, Funny)

A. B3ttik (1344591) | more than 4 years ago | (#29185869)

Hey, don't mock the slashdot editors.

I think I have that bumper sticker (2, Funny)

snowwrestler (896305) | more than 4 years ago | (#29185811)

I think I have that bumper sticker on my...hang on, just let me check this e-mail...and get this call...

Blulsiht! (1)

A. B3ttik (1344591) | more than 4 years ago | (#29185819)

I cna raed slashhhdott adn work at the same tikme.





syntx errer wtf???

People prefer to complete one task at a time... (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29185843)

...because they know from experience that it produces better results. People who habitually multitask do not know how to do a better job, so they think they're good at multitasking. Single-taskers are probably under much more stress though as they aim higher even when multitasking.

Typical (1)

Mycroft_514 (701676) | more than 4 years ago | (#29185859)

Define "multitasking" so that people are bound to fail, then measure the failure.

I define multitasking to include doing more then one task on my computer at a time. The trick is to start a long running BACKGROUND task and then do something requiring more attention in the foreground. It works very well.

So, I call this study INCOMPLETE. the peole doing it were probably playing video games while measuring their data - LOL!

Re:Typical (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29185953)

I think that was covered in the premise of the study that defined multitasking to be doing several media applications at the same time. (Such as watching TV and chatting on an IM). (TFS, Slashdot.org, retrieved 25/09/09 9:55am).

People in general (-1, Redundant)

ari_j (90255) | more than 4 years ago | (#29185875)

People in general suck at multitasking. The people who arrogantly but mistakenly believe they can multitask well only believe so out of a lack of self-awareness. People who are more self-aware and able to recognize that they are not good at multitasking will have a tendency, on average, to be better at organizing their thoughts and therefore better at preventing their multiple tasks from interfering with each other to the same extent that the arrogant, un-self-aware person experiences. This is the Dunning-Kruger effect mentioned in the summary. Nothing to see here.

Re:People in general (1)

thisnamestoolong (1584383) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186113)

Very well said. I would consider myself the exception to the rule in that I am aware of how bad I am at multi-tasking, yet still insist on doing it anyway. That whole ADD thing is a bitch...

Re:People in general (1)

ari_j (90255) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186127)

I never said anything about the wisdom and restraint to avoid multitasking. That's a whole other level above self-awareness, and definitely above where I am at.

From the people who brought us clippy (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29185897)

Note that one of the researchers behind this, Cliff Nass, was the brains behind Clippy.

Re:From the people who brought us clippy (1)

ElitistWhiner (79961) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186093)

Mod+3 (Informative)

Re:From the people who brought us clippy (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29186917)

You've got a typo there. You said there were brains behind Clippy.

Are these really tests of multitasking? (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29185911)

I'm a little puzzled by the tests.

The last test seemed to test ability to move from one focused task to another focused task, each one consuming 100% of attention.
I would expect a person with practice focusing on a single task to do well there.

The first test involved focusing on one object while ignoring distractions. Many of the people who consider themselves multi-taskers have probably trained themselves to be high-novelty seeking and easily distracted. Not saying this is necessarily good, just not clear how this was testing multi-tasking.

It seems to me a "multi-tasker" would do better at a test that actually tested tracking multiple inputs at once.

I hate multitasking (5, Funny)

jollyreaper (513215) | more than 4 years ago | (#29185985)

I can involve myself in one high-level function and monitor several low-level functions no problem. If I'm cooking and it's a recipe I know, I can have something on the telly in the background. Certainly not a movie or something that requires 100% focus but I can put the Daily Show or Colbert on no problem, just glancing over during the laughs to catch the sight gag. If it's a recipe I'm unfamiliar with, I have to focus 100%, no time for distractions.

Driving is another interesting case. When I was first learning, I couldn't have the radio on or even talk with a passenger. It was a new skill and consumed 100% of my attention to a ridiculous degree. As I became more comfortable with driving, I could take a more relaxed approach. I can hold a conversation with a passenger. I'm still doing my sweeps, checking mirrors, instrument panel, paying attention to the feel of the road, listening for anything odd, but it takes less effort to do all these things. But when conditions become more interesting, it takes more effort to retain situational awareness. I'll lose track of the conversation. This is the opposite of the way most people do it, the conversation distracting from the driving.

As a mostly monotasker, I'm very skeptical of multitaskers, bordering on contemptuous. It really irks me when I'm trying to work with someone who insists on multitasking to the point where you keep having to repeat yourself because he wasn't fucking listening in the first place. "No, I heard what you said. Just repeat it so I can understand." It's a sick, pathetic, constant pattern. I tell someone x is followed by y and z. They hear x and immediately ask about c. Well, c could be related in some instances but I already told you in this instance it's x, then y, then z. But wait, why is y there? That's the sequence. And then after several more rounds the person will exclaim with a sudden revelation "Why, this is x, then y, then z!" Of course, you numpty pillock. I've only been trying to tell you that for the last ten minutes. I'm going to rip that fucking bluetooth out of your ear, yank the battery from your iphone (they are removable if you use enough force) and make you focus for a goddamn minute!

Has anyone corrected for sex? (1)

davecb (6526) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186017)

No, not that kind of multitasking! I mean have they corrected for the difference between men and women?

In our society, and in the hunter-gatherer societies that far preceded it, men's jobs demanded concentration and women's demanded social interaction. This may introduce a sex-linked bias into the experiment.

--dave

Re:Has anyone corrected for sex? (2, Insightful)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186171)

Men's jobs demanded social interaction as well, and still do. You can't take down a wooly mammoth with only yourself and a spear. The men hunted, the women gathered. That's why married men are always so exasperated by their wives' "Well LOOK for it!" Male brains just aren't wired that way.

Re:Has anyone corrected for sex? (1)

InsertWittyNameHere (1438813) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186327)

sex-linked bias

It's true while woman are able to hold many thoughts at a time, us men are focused solely on sex.

Humans Can't Multitask (2, Interesting)

Xenolith (538304) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186041)

Multitasking in humans is a myth. You might be able to rapidly switch between tasks, but processing more than one thing simultaneously can't be done.

Re:Humans Can't Multitask (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29186201)

I wouldn't say they can't multitask. That's they can't multitask two things that demand careful attention. We already do alot of things that are multitasking such as walking and talking on a celllphone. Likewise you can multitask by say playing a game and watching TV as long as you don't care much about the TV show.

Re:Humans Can't Multitask (5, Insightful)

srobert (4099) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186203)

Damn! You're right. I was reading Slashdot and I forgot to breathe again.

Re:Humans Can't Multitask (1)

Code Master (164951) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186215)

I have a multicore brain! It's contention for memory access that's the issue.

Re:Humans Can't Multitask (1)

A. B3ttik (1344591) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186309)

[Citation Needed]

Re:Humans Can't Multitask (0)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186353)

Actually, you are constantly multi-tasking. You bet you had your full force of your brain on writing that comment, but you forget that you are also breathing, your heart is pumping, etc etc.

If you're trying to tell me that you've never held a conversation while walking/typing/playing a video game, that you absolutely had to drop what you are doing, then I'm going to nail you as the worst Multi-tasker in the face of human history. And just because you can't doesn't mean we can't.

Re:Humans Can't Multitask (1)

Xenolith (538304) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186673)

I guess I need to elaborate. You can't handle multiple "action planning" tasks simultaneously. Breathing, heart pumping, etc. are background apps, handled by your "lizard" brain.

Re:Humans Can't Multitask (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29186433)

Is that why I keep spilling my coffee while trying to read \.? Maybe I should stop eating lunch while watching the Daily Show, too, as I clearly can't chew and watch TV at the same time.

While an interesting study I agree with other posters that it doesn't test all areas of multi-tasking, but rather short term memory and the ability to switch between tasks. I'd also wager that the multi-taskers in the study were getting bored of the tests and were thinking about other things during most of it.

Re:Humans Can't Multitask (1)

NewbieProgrammerMan (558327) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186639)

I guess it depends on your definition of "processing." Personally, I always found it impossible to play the piano and talk at the same time. I just can't do it...it's like there's an interlock between my speech center and the part that's keeping track of whatever I'm playing.

However, I've known people that could do this with no problem. They could play, sing, pay attention to the performance of the rest of the band, and give direction to the band and sound guy as needed, seamlessly. Granted, they'd been doing this for a long time, but they had trained themselves to manage multiple complex tasks simultaneously.

Re:Humans Can't Multitask (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29186641)

yes it is, and here's an entire book written on the subject that does a great articulating why:

http://www.amazon.com/Myth-Multitasking-Doing-Gets-Nothing/dp/0470372257/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1251211363&sr=8-1

Re:Humans Can't Multitask (1)

smellsofbikes (890263) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186681)

Multitasking in humans is a myth. You might be able to rapidly switch between tasks, but processing more than one thing simultaneously can't be done.

And for all of us who are capable of walking whilst chewing gum, does that make us aliens?
My dad had a stupid party trick. He could count out loud while multiplying three digit numbers in his head, and usually had the answer before he got to 50. Even my *dog* can run without hitting into things, while visually tracking a ball I've thrown and calculating when to jump to catch it. We multitask all the time when we need to.

Re:Humans Can't Multitask (2, Interesting)

rfolkker (443051) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186757)

Targeted test, towards a targeted response. My wife and I get in this discussion all the time. I prefer to watch TV, play with my cats, and work/play on my computer at the same time. I typically work best like this. The key is, as people have mentioned, multitasking is very much like a computer. Each device/sense/ability are only capable of one process at a time, however, typing, breathing, sitting upright, listening to music, do not conflict with each other. If I were to add in anything that took away from one of the others, I would be unable to maintain.

The above test measured the wrong information. It was looking for cognitive multitasking. I seriously doubt it is possible for a human to cognitively multitask. We can hear and parse multiple conversations (I would have no idea of how many the average person can handle, but I peak out at about 3, and I am not very good at it), but we can only maintain one conscience stream of data at a time. This means, you have a conversation with someone, you may be able to keep track of what someone else is saying, but you are not likely, and definitely not proficiently going to be able to carry out a conversation with another. You may be able to hear what they say (one of the ways we can switch conversations and topics in conversation, the above mentioned ability to parse multiple conversations). But each time you switch between conversation, you have to break your stream of thought, interject the new conversation, and carry on with it. Then you switch back, but it's not multitasking, it's more in line with serial processing.

So, can people multitask, you have to, in order to function. But, to what level, and how do you do it is a different question (or 2).

Personally, I will listen to music, or watch TV while programing because it helps me focus on programming. It gives me a constant stream of data to keep my other senses busy while I focus my train of thought on what I am writing/designing. However, when the wife stops in, and sees me doing this, and deciding I can handle a conversation everything goes south, and a fight will typically break out.

Grouping method? (1)

Asgerix (1035824) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186047)

I wonder how the researchers determined if a person is a multitasker?

The article says:

In each of their tests, the researchers split their subjects into two groups: those who regularly do a lot of media multitasking and those who don't.

Do they simply ask "Do you do a lot of media multitasking?" ?

DOS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29186075)

DOS! DOS! DOS!

  - PC gamers chant at Microsoft presentations circa 1995

A study for this? (1)

Ozric (30691) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186091)

Wow what a shocker... People who meditate do so to focus on ONE point and keep that focus for as long as possible.
Everyone knows that a core problem with people is a lack of focus.... OH Look a Quarter!!! Anyway, where was I?
Oh yes, the lack of attention and focus, And just how much did this study cost us?

Multitasking (1)

confused one (671304) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186095)

You don't know what you're talking about. I multi...

uh, What were you saying?

Re:Multitasking (3, Funny)

MiniMike (234881) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186597)

And then there's those who can't even mono-task...

Applies to republicans, birthers/deathers,.etc. (0, Offtopic)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186243)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning-Kruger [wikipedia.org]

The Dunning-Kruger effect is an example of cognitive bias in which "...people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it".[1] They therefore suffer an illusory superiority, rating their own ability as above average. This leads to a perverse result where people with less competence will rate their ability more highly than people with relatively more competence. It also explains why competence may weaken the projection of confidence because competent individuals falsely assume others are of equivalent understanding. "Thus, the miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self, whereas the miscalibration of the highly competent stems from an error about others.

For further info, just google "Sarah Palin" or "birthers".

Re:Applies to republicans, birthers/deathers,.etc. (1)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186805)

For further info, just google "Sarah Palin" or "birthers".

So that would explain why people like Sarah Palin think that people are capable of taking care of themselves, while people like Barack Obama think people need the government to take care of them. Obviously this is because Sarah Palin is less competent and therefore thinks she is more competent than others, while Barack Obama is more competent and therefore thinks other people are equally competent.

In Soviet Amerika: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29186319)

Multitaskers do [youtube.com] you.

Yours In Hollywood,
K. Trout

According to my wife (2, Interesting)

KCWaldo (1555553) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186325)

It is impossible for me to multitask. For instance I cannot watch TV and listen to her tell me to take out the trash at the same time. I think that it is possible to multitask though using different senses. For instance type while reading or listening.

Originally had first post (2, Funny)

suso (153703) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186369)

I originally had the first post to this article, but I got distracted and forgot to hit the submit button.

Bah... (2, Funny)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186373)

Not sure I want to make a T-shirt out of THAT expression.

I have always suspected this (1, Troll)

wcrowe (94389) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186499)

I have long suspected this. I think people who believe they are good at multitasking give themselves the illusion that they are doing a good job simply because they are so busy. It has been my observation that many women, in particular, pride themselves on their multitasking ability, and are confident that they are excellent at each and every task, when in fact they are just doing a mediocre job.

Pity the poor man who should ever suggest this, however.

Women! (1)

EddyPearson (901263) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186561)

...Know your limits!

Tell it to my ex-boss (1)

Wansu (846) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186593)

He thinks that because he can sit in a meeting and halfway listen to what is being said while reading emails on his blackberry, he is multitasking. And therefore, those who work for him should be able to handle several large, high pressure projects at once.

Really... (1)

yoshi_mon (172895) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186603)

It's not the shiny buttons it's me trying to multitask!

It's a productivity killer! (2, Interesting)

GarryFre (886347) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186607)

It's like building a house of cards in an earthquake. It always comes falling down. Would you tell your surgeon that it was ok if he stepped out to work on other patients while he had you laying open on the operating table? This stupid myth that multitasking is a good thing is the one thing that has caused me more headaches and failure to get a job than anything else. They would ask me how good I am at multitasking and i would honestly say it was not something I could handle well. It breeds mistakes like mad and it would piss me off when i would get pulled out of something I was about to finish to start on something else. its a piss poor way to do things and I had the studies to prove it a decade ago. They did a study, where they simply interrupted people every 20 minutes. They found it killed productivity - it came to a near standstill. Nothing got done. Why? They found that people work best in a certain rhythm or routine, but that it took about 20 minutes to get into that rhythm but when you interrupts folks, they never get into that rhythm - think of stopping a train every 20 yards and you get the idea. The only kind of multitasking that is ok, is the kind where you break your project into parts or you have a few different projects that if you get stuck or are unsure how you should proceed and have to let the ideas simmer for a bit, then it is good to work on something else for awhile WHEN you are in a spot where you can stop and come back to it later without having to re-orient yourself all the time. PS: I'm a dedicated programmer looking for a job. Hire me! I need work and not to be looking for it while living under a bridge!

Awww (1)

DarthVain (724186) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186773)

When I read the title I interpreted "Do It" as is Bowchicawowow...

Then immediately the joke came to mind.... I know when I multitask it just takes longer to get things done, which really women might appreciate...

But really I guess I just proved the real theory that I am not good at multitasking. Dammit!

Smells like incompetence (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29186783)

I remember a study was reported a couple of years ago or so saying that incompetent people thing they're great at what they do. They lacked the mental equipment to judge performance. This sounds like the same song, second verse.

My Mother in law (1)

Archangel Michael (180766) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186897)

The problem with "multitasking" is that it shouldn't be attempted unless you're already good at something.

My mother-in-law can knit a sweater, watch a movie and talk to my wife all at the same time, and not miss anything. She is simply amazing at times.

Other times she tries to multitask and it comes out to be the biggest clusterfuck of all time. Especially anything that has to do with computers.

The trick is that to truly multitask well, requires mindless tasks that just occupy time.

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