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Research Suggests Brain Has a 2-Task Limit for Multitasking

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the typing-sleeping-being-hungry-so-there dept.

Medicine 257

suraj.sun writes with a story from LiveScience about just how much attention you can devote to each of the tasks on hand that scream for it: "The brain is set up to manage two tasks, but not more, a new study suggests. That's because, when faced with two tasks, a part of the brain known as the medial prefrontal cortex (MFC) divides so that half of the region focuses on one task and the other half on the other task. This division of labor allows a person to keep track of two tasks pretty readily, but if you throw in a third, things get a bit muddled. 'What really the results show is that we can readily divide tasking. We can cook, and at the same time talk on the phone, and switch back and forth between these two activities,' said study researcher Etienne Koechlin of the Université Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris, France. 'However, we cannot multitask with more than two tasks.'"

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Lies. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31880512)

I have eighteen arms and I can jack off with all of them.

At once.

Oh no ! (1)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880524)

I am chewing gum while listening to music and I am typing this into Slashdot.

Oh shit ! My brain gonna explode !!!

Re:Oh no ! (3, Funny)

jimmydevice (699057) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880556)

Yes, you are chewing gum while listening to music and posting to Slashdot.
How is this multitasking and not slacking?

Re:Oh no ! (3, Funny)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880604)

Yes, you are chewing gum while listening to music and posting to Slashdot.
How is this multitasking and not slacking?

Task 1: Chewing gum.

10 Chew Gum
20 Goto 10

Task 2: Listening to music

10 Hear Music
20 Shake head
30 Hymn a little bit
40 Shake leg
50 Goto 10

Task 3: Typing to Slashdot

10 Think of words to type
20 Search for the spelling of the word
30 Lift fingers
40 Use right fingers to hit the right keys
50 Eye look at screen
60 Check for typos
70 Check for grammar mistake
80 Goto 10

If that's not multitask, what is?

Re:Oh no ! (1)

bhagwad (1426855) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880688)

Isn't your last task really two tasks in one? I mean what're your left fingers doing eh??

Ahem, a delicate observation. Of course, it could mean you used your right (as opposed to wrong) fingers, but who knows what a slashdotter means...

Re:Oh no ! (2, Funny)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880736)

Isn't your last task really two tasks in one? I mean what're your left fingers doing eh??

Ahem, a delicate observation. Of course, it could mean you used your right (as opposed to wrong) fingers, but who knows what a slashdotter means

Mea Culpa.

Should have used the word "correct" instead of the word "right".

Sorry !

Re:Oh no ! (1)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880734)

I hate to be the one to tell you this ... but while looking at your code I think I stumbled on the reason you may feel like you're "stuck in the same old same old" these days. Every tasks ends with Goto 10. You should see a flowchart about that.

Re:Oh no ! (1)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880746)

I hate to be the one to tell you this ... but while looking at your code I think I stumbled on the reason you may feel like you're "stuck in the same old same old" these days. Every tasks ends with Goto 10. You should see a flowchart about that.

Keen observation !

Next time I'll use "goto 10" for the first task, "goto 11" for the second task, and so on.

Note to self: Need variety.

Slacker. (1)

gbutler69 (910166) | more than 4 years ago | (#31881106)

Most people only GOTO 10, but, the special amongst us go all the way to 11!

OMG! Is that BASIC I see??? (1)

mswhippingboy (754599) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880738)

This being 2010 I would have expected:

int main(String[] args() {
new Thread(new Task1()).start();
new Thread(new Task2()).start();
new Thread(new Task3()).start();
Thread.sleep(86400000L);
}


// Task 1: Chewing gum.
class Task1() {
void run() {
while(1) {
chewGum();
}
}

// Task 2: Listening to music
class Task2() {
void run() {
while(1) {
hearMusic();
shakeHead();
hymnALittleBit();
shakeLeg();
}
}

//Task 3: Typing to Slashdot
class Task3() {
void run() {
while(1) {
thinkOfWordsToType();
searchForTheSpellingOfTheWord();
liftFingers();
useRightFingersToHitTheRightKeys();
eyeLookAtScreen();
checkForTypos();
checkForGrammarMistake();
}
}

Re:OMG! Is that BASIC I see??? (2, Funny)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880760)

Wait till you see I use the "gosub" command ! Muahahahaha !

Re:OMG! Is that BASIC I see??? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31880834)

Great, 2010 and we have to wrap a function in a class to get a reference to it.

Re:OMG! Is that BASIC I see??? (2, Funny)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 4 years ago | (#31881110)

Why does 2010 require so many empty parentheses?

I would think that in 2010 it would look more like this:

1. Slide to Unlock

2. Chew Gum App (Free Version)

3. Click!

Re:Oh no ! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31880768)

Hymn, or hum a little bit?

Re:Oh no ! (1)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880810)

Hymn, or hum a little bit?

Urgent notice to self: Typo checking function crashed !

The eyeball function needs thorough debugging !

Re:Oh no ! (1)

TheVelvetFlamebait (986083) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880862)

60 Check for typos
70 Check for grammar mistake

Some of us is not so fsusy.

Re:Oh no ! (1)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880968)

60 Check for typos
        70 Check for grammar mistake

Some of us is not so fsusy.

I did make mistakes even with the error trapping codes !

Re:Oh no ! (1)

mwvdlee (775178) | more than 4 years ago | (#31881168)

It's multislacking!

Re:Oh no ! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31880612)

Listening to music and chewing gum are both things that dont really need your attention. Music comes from the heaphones weather or not you pay attention to it and chewing gum is a simple up - down motion that you make hundreds of times every day that does not really need attention either.

Posting to slashdot is the only thing that requires some amount of thinking.

Re:Oh no ! (1)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880792)

Listening to music and chewing gum are both things that dont really need your attention. Music comes from the heaphones weather or not you pay attention to it and chewing gum is a simple up - down motion that you make hundreds of times every day that does not really need attention either.

Posting to slashdot is the only thing that requires some amount of thinking.

Hmmm.... hmmmmmmmm....

Listening to music and chewing gum are both things that dont really need your attention.

Lemme see ...

Music comes from the heaphones weather or not you pay attention to it

But... but... I need to pay attention to the BEATS so I can shake my head and shake my leg according to the BEATS !

You don't expect my body movement different from the music beat, do you?

and chewing gum is a simple up - down motion that you make hundreds of times every day that does not really need attention either.

Dunno about you, but if I chew without paying attention I might end up chewing my tongue or my lips or ...

Painful, man !

Posting to slashdot is the only thing that requires some amount of thinking.

Re:Oh no ! (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31880812)

Posting to slashdot is the only thing that requires some amount of thinking.

You're new here, aren't you?

Dear boss.. (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31880514)

..please note that this study proves that I can read Slashdot and work at the same time. Thanks, your dutiful employee

Re:Dear boss.. (1)

jimmydevice (699057) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880564)

You're FIRED!!!!

Oh great, I'm an iPad (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31880520)

Is Steve Jobs going to sue me? I mean, I also sometimes wear turtlenecks also.

I must be the human iPad (4, Funny)

Dachannien (617929) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880522)

So how come I can't walk and chew gum at the same time?

Re:I must be the human iPad (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31880532)

I can eat popcorn and watch tv at the same time.. I'm so gifted.

Re:I must be the human iPad (4, Funny)

JustOK (667959) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880566)

I can eat popcorn and chew gum at the same time.

Re:I must be the human iPad (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31880830)

I can watch TV and walk at the same time - together we'd be unstoppable!

Re:I must be the human iPad (1)

Faerunner (1077423) | more than 4 years ago | (#31881044)

I can read books and walk at the same time! Used to do it on campus; got pretty good at dodging people with headphones on who weren't looking where they were going!

Re:I must be the human iPad (1)

ManlySpork (1542827) | more than 4 years ago | (#31881208)

I have a feeling that with your eyes focussed on your book, you weren't really either.

Re:I must be the human iPad (2, Funny)

Lord Lode (1290856) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880882)

An iPad can multitask more, it can do 3 tasks at once: you can put a beer glass, the bottle and some food on it at the same time!

Hmmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31880526)

I guess the researchers never played a Bach piece written for 3 voices. You have to play 3 different melodies with 2 hands, read ahead sheet music and keep the tempo. More than 2 tasks, right?

Re:Hmmm (1)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880618)

FTFA

What really the results show is that we can readily divide tasking

What really the results show is that this researcher is related to Ralphie Wiggum.

How is testing three similar tasks proof that we are limited to only two tasks? Maybe it only proves that we can't handle more than two simultaneous spelling tests. What about some hand-eye coordination thrown in there ... or speaking ... or even making up a story, telling it aloud and clicking "Next" to get out of doing the spelling test? I call shenanigans!

Also, this whole premise of dividing and/or prioritizing based on reward or perceived value doesn't jive with me either. Sure, if I have to chose between doing a stupid spelling test for a researcher or doing a stupid spelling test I get paid for getting right for that same stupid researcher, I'm going to focus on the one that pays. That's not my brain managing multitasking, it's my cable bill reminding me it's due next week. If their hypothesis were true then later today while I'm cleaning the bathroom, listening to my iPod and wishing I were eating enchiladas, the bathroom would never get cleaned.

How quickly can I get my boss to ignore this? (3, Funny)

cavehobbit (652751) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880530)

7 projects, 2 of which are corporate mandates with no additional funding or 'resources' to do them, 4 other administrative tasks, plus an hour or so each day dedicated to HR-related corporate marionette-ing to satisfy the Political Correctness Police. All for 2 shell scripts and a mainframe extract. That took 3 months to get done. And this isn't even a government job.

Bullshit. (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31880536)

I call bullshit. Right now, I'm replying to this Slashdot article from my cell phone, eating a quick breakfast, and driving my car in morning traffic. I'm doing all three with the utmost saf

Re:Bullshit. (-1, Redundant)

UpnAtom (551727) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880786)

OMG, same here and I just called you an ambul

Practice (5, Insightful)

TheLink (130905) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880870)

Seriously though, you might be able to learn how to do that if you could practice doing that 100 times every day, for a month under safe simulated conditions (e.g. driving simulator, and simulated eating too, otherwise you'd end up killing yourself by overeating ;) ).

It's all about practice. Practice, practice, practice.

The first time you drive a car (especially a manual), there are so many tasks.

After a while of practice, your brain configures itself to automatically make those tasks into a subtask, and groups them all into one task - "driving".

Of course some people may never be able to do it. But I think a high proportion of people can. And I bet there are some people who can learn to do it after very short time - just like some people can learn to juggle very quickly, and there was that recent article about supertaskers.

I'm sure Michael Schumacher can eat breakfast and type on a cellphone and still do F1 laps faster than I can, when I'm just doing F1 laps (just driving, not eating or doing other stuff).

The trouble with most people is they're trying to do "for real" without practicing _properly_. That's like trying to juggle chainsaws, without learning how to juggle balls first, and then gradually working your way up under controlled conditions.

Re:Practice (1)

antifoidulus (807088) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880988)

95+% of the time you can, but the problem is with something high stakes like driving you always have to be on the lookout for the unexpected. You cannot maintain full situational awareness while multi-tasking, thats that. If you want to text or eat or do whatever during your commute, just take the bus. It's what I do.

Re:Practice (1)

pnewhook (788591) | more than 4 years ago | (#31881088)

Sure. But that gets into repetitive muscle training that no longer requires a lot of conscious thought. Ever try and learn the piano? You only get good when you practice enough so your fingers 'automatically' go where you want them to. As soon as you start thinking about finger placement consciously, you miss tempo.

Re:Practice (1)

Faerunner (1077423) | more than 4 years ago | (#31881090)

Makes sense. I wouldn't be surprised if this is why so many new parents feel overwhelmed with the first kid, but breeze through the next one. Trying to make breakfast while the dog's whining at the door and Timmy's refusing to get out of his pj's isn't something you can practice, but once you can do it, it seems rather mundane. I'd like them to do a long-term study on multitasking now. Once learned, is a series of tasks that we do frequently (like paying the bills while talking on the phone, or checking the news and eating breakfast) something we will never forget, or must it be continued in order to maintain adequate multitasking? I've been very good at various multitasking sets in the past but have since discontinued them; if I tried to do them again would I be able to pick up where I left off, or can the brain only manage a certain number of sets?

what is a single task to the brain? (4, Insightful)

slashmojo (818930) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880550)

Is talking on the phone really a single task? Is cooking? Surely each of those is made up of countless sub-tasks even if you don't consciously think about them.

Re:what is a single task to the brain? (3, Insightful)

Pharmboy (216950) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880648)

Is talking on the phone really a single task? Is cooking? Surely each of those is made up of countless sub-tasks even if you don't consciously think about them.

If you were just saying random words, then perhaps not. But if you are discussing the new project at work, or what little Johnny did at school, or even about sports, it requires pulling in previous experiences, remembering specific events, drawing conclusions, etc., which are "subroutines" in a single task, communicating. A phone conversation can actually take more brain power than driving down the highway. Think about it, when someone is driving and talking on the phone, it is obvious that the cell phone requires more attention than driving. As for being sub-tasks, all tasks are generally linear subtasks that would qualify as a single task.

Perhaps that is why people tend to stray into the other lane when driving/talking on the cell. A third activity comes in or they have to fork a thought for consideration during the conversation, and they run out of brainpower/memory, so the least important activity (driving) gets swapped out for a second. Humans just need more RAM.

How about that, a computer analog for a car problem, instead of the other way around!

Re:what is a single task to the brain? (1)

KibibyteBrain (1455987) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880678)

I think the analogy would be humans need another processor. We could do for more RAM as well, but that is another issue.

Re:what is a single task to the brain? (1)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880838)

We have plenty of storage. I'm thinking we could use some more on-die cache.

Re:what is a single task to the brain? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31880682)

You've got a good point. The fellow above speaking about Bachs 3 way couterpoint does as well. To further both your points, I'd like to point out that synthesists can be a good example. Playing 2 synths ,analog, lots of knobs,sliders and buttons and running a Taurus bass pedal sans sequencing while manipulating envelopes, VCOs, LFOs and more while maintaining 3 parts. All the while whacked out of your gourd on substance du jour.

          I'd like to put a definition out there for the common knowledge dictionary:
          Study n. 1. Activity indulged in by state college science departments in order to continue flow of funding. Findings not important so long as quantity is achieved and costs are kept minimal. Findings are substituted for proofs in order to manipulate a public ignorant of difference. 2. Activity indulged in by commercial research houses in order to further the agendas of corporations and government with the results they are paid to find.

        Probably an unfair definition and not inclusive of all examples, but, it's a bad world out there , full of people who would pimp their mother for a buck. It should also be pointed out that "studies" are frequently conducted in close time frames or even simultaneously that end up contradicting each other. hmmmmmm. Anyone got any favorites to share?

Re:what is a single task to the brain? (4, Insightful)

UpnAtom (551727) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880764)

Especially in men, right brains don't talk. So that's exclusively left-brain.

Driving (at least the direction & speed control) is right brain. The time it's most likely to engage your left brain is when you have to consciously think ie planning your route, adapting to unusual road conditions. Apart from that driving & talking is fairly easy for experienced drivers. Typically, drivers talk in a monotonous voice as inflection is right hemisphere.

Try adding a column of figures eg restaurant bill and having a conversation at the same time - pretty damn hard because both are left brain. So there we're only single-tasking.

I think what this research shows is that we use both sides of our brain when we're single-tasking. Some areas of the brain are very specialised but other areas can be trained to perform similar functions (for some people, the right hemisphere spelling a word would be an unnatural task). If we're doing two tasks for which different hemispheres of the brain can assigned one of the tasks, then the brain is quite adept at dividing up the workload.

Re:what is a single task to the brain? (1)

Sanat (702) | more than 4 years ago | (#31881098)

Thanks for sharing your insights... I am left handed so spend most of my mind activity in the right side of the brain. Often times when I am multi-tasking such as talking while driving... I find that I constantly shift the focus between the two tasks.

As an example if I was making a left turn in downtown St. Louis with all the one-way streets, crazy drivers, and pedestrians then I would stop talking while executing the turn. Once the turn is completed then I start talking again. I am the same way when debugging code or solving a methodology problem... I don't talk but rather focus on the issue. Actually it is not that I don't talk, but rather that I can't.

Maybe it is because I have a very limited resource to share between the tasks... but it is my style and my partner thinks it is funny because she can easily and effortlessly do two things at once.

Re:what is a single task to the brain? (1)

rolfwind (528248) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880770)

Is talking on the phone really a single task? Is cooking? Surely each of those is made up of countless sub-tasks even if you don't consciously think about them.

There are many challenges like this:

Its impossible to spin your RIGHT leg in a clock wise possion and then rub your stomach with your RIGHT arm in a counter clockwise possisoneverytime you do it either your right leg or your right arm will start spinning the same way as the leg or arm

Just try it. Stand up. Spin your right leg to the right. Then place your right hand on your stomach and rub your stomach in a counter clockwise possion at the same time as your leg is spinning

It's obvious to me it's not just the thinking but the brains inputs and outputs... however, I think people in general seriously overestimate their ability to do multitasking (well). Usually they do a bunch of things half-assed, like chatting online, watching TV, etcetera, and not really catching half of the interactions they participate in. Maybe it's a modern desire to appear busy (hardworking), I honestly don't know.

I wonder if they would make fun of Einstein for being so single-minded?

Re:what is a single task to the brain? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31881032)

. . . and the baby on your hip, while thinking about whether you paid the power bill and where did you put the file you need for work tomorrow, and could the bug be in your coworker's code and it merely crashed in your module because your incoming data verification decided the data was out of bounds, and washing the pot you needed because someone used it and left it in the sink, and calculating when you have to leave work to meet the contractor, and negotiating with your sitter to care for the kid with the fever while answering the geometry question from the kid doing their homework . . .

Chances are they didn't test working moms because they don't have time to participate in research studies.

Women can do it better.. (1)

3seas (184403) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880554)

Somewhere not so long ago I saw research article that pointed out women can multi-task better than men.
And that it was a trait of women in general.

Its a matter of dealing with kids.

So if two is the limit, what does that say about men?
Which head are they thinking with?

Re:Women can do it better.. (2, Insightful)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880576)

Based on this research, it would appear that women are better at cooking and talking on the phone. Gasps of surprise, and film at 11, probably something with Renee Zellweger being charmingly quirky.

Re:Women can do it better.. (4, Funny)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880636)

So if two is the limit, what does that say about men?
Which head are they thinking with?

I think the answer is obvious. Our two tasks are:
1) Thinking about the woman we're are talking to
2) Thinking about the other woman over there.

Re:Women can do it better.. (3, Interesting)

geekmux (1040042) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880714)

Somewhere not so long ago I saw research article that pointed out women can multi-task better than men. And that it was a trait of women in general.

Its a matter of dealing with kids.

So if two is the limit, what does that say about men? Which head are they thinking with?

My apologies if I call bullshit here. A "matter of dealing with kids" is your proof? And the women who don't have kids?

It used to be that mens car insurance rates were MUCH higher than womens. Perhaps you should take a closer look at the rates today, since women think they can drive, put on makeup, and talk on the phone at the same time, and the insurance rates prove it. So does the side of my car.

Re:Women can do it better.. (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880998)

Next time a woman claims to be a better mutitasker because she is a woman point out that it's just an excuse for her inability to focus.

Disclaimer: Don't try this stunt without a crotch protector.

Please define task (4, Insightful)

houghi (78078) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880572)

I can eat, breath, type and read at the same time while listening to music.
At these moments I am also thinking ahead of what I am going to do.

Even typing could be considered doing several tasks at the same time. The sample of 'cooking' in the summery can be defined as multiple tasks. You are standing, you are tasting and smelling, you are planning of what to do next and probably stirring as well as looking.

For a chef in a kitchen, cooking is also interacting with other people at the same time.
For some people cooking is pressing the button on the microwave and waiting for the 'ting' of the machine.

So what is a 'task'?

Re:Please define task (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31880584)

Here, have a letter: e. You can stick it on the end of breath if you like.

Re:Please define task (2, Informative)

Skexis (1744642) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880698)

If you require constant attention to keep breathing, you have bigger problems than defining a task. But from TFA:

Koechlin and his colleagues had 32 subjects complete a letter-matching task while they had their brains scanned with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The subjects saw uppercase letters on a screen and had to determine whether those letters were presented in the correct order to spell out a certain word. They were given money if they performed the task with no errors.
...
But then they made the task more difficult. In addition to uppercase letters, the subjects were also presented with lowercase letters, and had to switch back and forth between matching the uppercase letters to spell out, say, T-A-B-L-E-T, and lowercase letters to spell out t-a-b-l-e-t.
...
To make things even more complicated, the researchers introduced a third letter-matching task. Here, they saw the subject's accuracy drop considerably. It was as though, once each hemisphere was occupied with managing one task, there was nowhere for the third task to go.

Pshaw! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31880574)

I am typing this comment sitting in a library ogling a hot chick sitting in front of me while humming a tune and thinking about burgers. fur burgers.

Musicians (4, Interesting)

Landak (798221) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880592)

What about professional musicians, who have to concentrate on far many more things than two at once? Organists, in addition to playing anything up to five keyboard manuals with their hands and one with their feet (simultaneously reading anything up to twelve lines of music, though in practice usually never more than five), have to listen to a choir and/or congregation, watch a conductor, and read the music, all at the same time. Some of them can even sing competently one line whilst doing so!

Whilst I can accept that it is very difficult to consciously concentrate on more than two things at once, somehow some people can train their subconscious into doing so -- when sight-reading music, I experience a lovely sensation, almost as if my brain is being "split" down the middle -- if I concentrate for too long, I start to develop a headache and feel exceptionally exhausted. It is a most wonderful feeling, and nothing else in the world quite comes close (although doing some rewarding mathematics isn't far behind). I would not be surprised if it were possible to find many more examples of people concentrating on more than two things at once, "simply" through getting other bits of their brain to do the dirty work. Juggling on a unicycle while jumping over a skipping rope, anyone?

Re:Musicians (3, Interesting)

cthugha (185672) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880680)

As I remember it, all of that repetitive fine motor control musicians need is handled by the cerebellum [wikipedia.org] at an unconscious or preconscious level once the necessary movements have been learnt (this is why practice is important). So yeah, there is division by delegation of many tasks, like you said, but I'm not sure how many pure "thinking" processes could be performed at any given time.

Re:Musicians (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31880920)

You're probably right when you say professionals use the cerebellum to handle the repetitive tasks, to the point where playing the instrument (or when chefs cook; when f1 drivers drive) become a second nature. For me, I remember having the hardest time singing and playing guitar at the same time when I was just learning how to play.

Re:Musicians (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31880706)

I have seen a piano player reading a newspaper while playing in a pit orchestra. When there is three shows a day I guess it becomes pretty automatic after a few months.

The one that really impressed me was hearing someone do a reduction of a full orchestral score down to a single piano part. They were sight reading too. To do that you have to be thinking of so many things at once, not only about where your fingers are, but where the important melodic and chordal/rhythmic parts in the score are, and how to find that from over twenty or so different instrumental parts at once. There is no way the player is only thinking of two things at once!

Re:Musicians (1)

B3Geek (313588) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880758)

Any jazz organist does this when he carries the bass line for the group. There appears to be a complete separation between the left hand which is carrying the bass and the right which is comping and soloing.

Re:Musicians (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 4 years ago | (#31881058)

I saw a drum solo at a santana concert that blew me away, he was playing a different beat with all four limbs.

Re:Musicians (1)

karlwilson (1124799) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880856)

It's funny that you mention music. I remember when I was learning to play piano as a little kid, I always practice the music (even if it had multiple melodies) as one piece. I never thought of it as two separate songs going on at once. I had to relearn that same process of learning music as one piece when I started playing guitar while singing at the same time. I'm also a pilot for the Air Force, a job that requires an incredible amount of multitasking. The key there is to keep everything in your mind organized and accomplish tasks in logical sequence. After a while, you also begin to develop "muscle-memory" which allows you to pile on more tasks.

Re:Musicians (1)

tomhath (637240) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880874)

Yes, playing difficult music requires a lot of concentration. Now have the musician talk on the phone and solve a crossword puzzle while they're playing and see how well they do.

I was a drummer (2, Interesting)

AnonymousClown (1788472) | more than 4 years ago | (#31881074)

Playing a drumset requires both wrists and both feet moving, seemingly, at different times..

It's really all one thing - one movement. In other words, my wrists and feet where acting synchronously to the beat. The position for each body part would be different but the timing was the same. Probably the most impressive drummer I've ever heard was Omar Hakim - drummed for Sting on "Dream of the Blue Turtles". Sometimes I wonder if that guy's hemispheres actually communicate. Which makes me wonder of those folks whose hemispheres were disconnected wouldn't be awesome drummers or piano players.

I used to work on the road... (1)

courteaudotbiz (1191083) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880596)

And when I had a really busy day, at the same time, I was able to:
  1. Drive my car
  2. Eat my Subway
  3. Take a call with my cell phone (no hands free, I had the phone between my ear and shoulder)
  4. Take note of what my client was saying (I had a kneeboard)

Of course, I was not able to hold the steering with my hands, but I was using my knee (was driving on the highway).

So this is 4 tasks at a time. I never had an accident.

Re:I used to work on the road... (4, Insightful)

lattyware (934246) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880608)

Not having an accident doesn't make it safe.

Re:I used to work on the road... (0)

courteaudotbiz (1191083) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880624)

Where did I say it was perfectly safe? I just said that I was able to do it all at the same time.

Re:I used to work on the road... (1)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880650)

Not having an accident doesn't make it safe.

I think "not having an accident" could be considered the 5th task ;-)

Re:I used to work on the road... (1)

zippthorne (748122) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880910)

How many times have you repeated this experiment?

Re:I used to work on the road... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31881140)

My father is the only other person I know who can drive with his knee, eat and talk at the same time. I've been practicing (in rush-hour traffic, no less - why not take advantage of the slowdowns to do something useful?), but I don't think that it's very practical. My commute follows a pretty twisty highway and knees weren't meant for turning steering wheels.

doesn't apply to computer (1)

hey (83763) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880630)

Maybe 2 tasks in the foreground but its useful to have your computer checking mail, RSS feeds, defragging, etc in the background.

Pick two (5, Insightful)

characterZer0 (138196) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880638)

Thinking
Talking
Listening

Pick two.

Re:Pick two (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31880962)

Yeah, it's really easy to listen while talking. You will not retain much, but you can do it. Same with thinking: if you are busy pondering your response while the other person is talking, you are most likely missing some information.

Proper listening is not a task that can be done along other tasks. It is underrated because it seems like a passive activity, but real listening requires a lot of effort.

Re:Pick two (1)

Faerunner (1077423) | more than 4 years ago | (#31881150)

And if you ever doubt it, try listening to something in another language (especially one you've just started learning).

Re:Pick two (5, Insightful)

IANAAC (692242) | more than 4 years ago | (#31881020)

If you are an interpreter, you routinely do all three at the same time.

Sorry, just because it's difficult for some doesn't mean it's impossible. It does take training and practice, though.

A victory for the workforce (3, Insightful)

sanche (98750) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880646)

I'm glad to see this. There are way too many people in my business life claiming to be good at multitasking when their only real strength is never giving anything their full attention.

It takes a certain amount of horsepower for your brain to help you get through a list of tasks, simple or not. When you focus, you get those things done faster, and usually at a higher quality.

iPhone (1)

skyriser2 (179031) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880654)

So our brain is better at multitasking than an iPhone?

Windows XP Starter Edition (2, Funny)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880660)

So the three-app limit in Windows XP was scientifically justified!

A Minority Can Multitask (2, Informative)

sonicmerlin (1505111) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880662)

I recall an article at Arstechnica about cell phone use while driving mentioning a study that found a minority of people are actually capable of multi-tasking while the rest are "bad at it". Oh yes, here we go:

http://arstechnica.com/science/news/2010/03/rare-supertaskers-balance-driving-and-cellphone-use.ars

Obviously... (3, Funny)

ThoughtMonster (1602047) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880674)

...all the researchers are men and have never met any women.

Multi...what? (1)

Drune (965976) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880694)

Try making a simple math operation inside your head while you are reading a book or writing an SMS.. Did you stop the reading or the SMS writing while you got the result of 22x11x2? You are not multitasking..sorry!

Multi-processor but multi-threads, too... (1)

xandercash (1791710) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880700)

So we have a 2 processor system, but, at least for me, one of the two processors can also multi-thread.

I can.. (1)

ZERO1ZERO (948669) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880730)

Because I'm special. And superior to all other beings.

Re:I can.. (1)

Nerdfest (867930) | more than 4 years ago | (#31881128)

My mother says I'm special.

I can verify it's true (1)

lord_rob the only on (859100) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880740)

I had an accident and the zone of my brain which is responsible for the communication between the two hemispheres of the brain (corpus callosum) was damaged during a important head injury. Now it's difficult to take notes while listening to a speaker for example because I need to concentrate on two tasks.

So both hemispheres need to work actively but what is more important is the communication between them

Re:I can verify it's true (3, Interesting)

ultranova (717540) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880946)

I had an accident and the zone of my brain which is responsible for the communication between the two hemispheres of the brain (corpus callosum) was damaged during a important head injury. Now it's difficult to take notes while listening to a speaker for example because I need to concentrate on two tasks.

Can the "other" hemisphere act on its own? I mean, is it more like having lost half your brain, or having been split into two beings in a single body?

So both hemispheres need to work actively but what is more important is the communication between them

Yes. I theorize that in order to meld separate nodes to a single entity, the communication between them has to be at least as fast as information processing within them. That way they stay so well synchronized and coordinated that they are, for all intents and purposes, a single entity - a brain, rather than just a bunch of neurons.

This is important for AI research, since it implies that the current design of computers - fast processor, but huge cost of communication and cache misses - is as bad fit for AI as can be. Instead, you'd want lots and lots and lots of relatively weak cores with their own dedicated on-chip memory and capability of sending messages to each other.

I wonder if graphis cards and compute shaders would fit the bill? They certainly are much better at parallelization. Of course, even then you'd need lots and lots and lots of them...

Or just run the whole thing over the Internet. Let's add AI nodes to various P2P programs and see Skynet emerge :). Seriously, the burden on a single computer would be pretty low, so it should be technically doable...

Not counting what the small brain does, I guess (1)

blind biker (1066130) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880750)

The small brain takes care of the mechanical movements of the body, such as walking, swimming, dancing, bicycling etc.

As an aside, my brain is certainly restricted to a single task, since I'm an aspie.

its partial redone of an old study (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31880756)

sI remember reading years ago about the US airforce doing the same study. they wanted to know if it was better to put one or two pilots in a fighter. They found with training the number closer to 5 tasks

Re:its partial redone of an old study (1)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880890)

Key word is "with training"

Once trained, they are automatic and are not consciously managed. Sure, there's some higher-level stuff, like "listen to your threat indicator" and "scan your gauges" but it's not an "active" process.

Anonymous Coward. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31880782)

LOL Dual core!

No. Just, no. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31880788)

People do countless tasks every day at the same time, and "second nature" type tasks don't even come in to it.

People have to deal with multiple inputs every day and filter them correctly, be it someone taking some notes or a bartender in a busy club with loud music blaring.
Maybe they should rerun the tests on people like this.
I, personally, deal with multiple inputs almost every day and have no problem keeping track of them all.
The only downside for me is that i'm unable to do a lot of logical-heavy computation. But that is just for me, i know of others who are perfectly capable of it.

While we think we know a lot about how the brain works, we really are still pretty clueless. We don't know what any of those neural firings are doing, or mean, just that they are there and happening at the same time a task is being performed.
The brain isn't hardwired to deal with binary data, the main idea of the brain is to deal with countless inputs every nanosecond.
That is what led to it being so complex in such a small size. If the brain were to be expressed as a binary machine, it would be significantly larger.
People hate deciding between more than two things? That isn't the case at all, people like choice, and from my own experiences, most of the people i know usually tend to look for more options if they are presented with binary choices.
32 test cases just isn't a large enough dataset. Nowhere near large enough for something like this.

Hell, if there is one thing we DO know is that the brain is FLEXIBLE. Saying that the brain isn't capable of learning to multitask beyond some sort of "natural default" is just crazy, we have seen much bigger things than this, such as people echo-locating, brain adapting to alternative inputs such as UV and magnetic inputs, as well as emulated sight through stimulation of the TONGUE.
The brain is by no means a static structure.

And while we are at it, the definition of a task within the brain is a bit blurry, at best.

Re:No. Just, no. (3, Interesting)

dominious (1077089) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880936)

There is an example from R. Feynman, where he said he used to count the time in his head but he could not talk at the same time, whereas someone else could do that easily but he could not read a paper at the same time. OTOH Feynman could read the newspaper while counting time.

What was the difference? Feynman was counting time by narrating the numbers in his head (using the speech system), while the other guy was picturing the numbers in his head (using the image system). So if he was using the speech system he could not speak at the same time because that system was already in use, while the other guy could not read because he was already using the image system.

Ah, I get it... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31880868)

I can drink and drive, or drive and talk on the cellphone, but I can't drink, drive *and* talk on the cellphone.

The type of task matters (3, Insightful)

Webz (210489) | more than 4 years ago | (#31880880)

In my opinion, the type of task matters. And I think it has to do with what parts of your brain are used. For example, I can code/refactor and listen to a podcast just fine simultaneously. But if it's two comprehension-based tasks, like reading AND listening, I can't do them. Or lately I've even noticed I can't mentally elaborate on a thought and listen to a podcast at the same time.

The coding and listening thing seems very left brain/right brain to me.

Also, to the poster that mentioned musical multi-tasking... That's really interesting! But I think it helps that we as musicians have been training since a very young age to accept that level of multi-tasking, so the things that become muscle memory do. Fingering, breathing, sight reading, etc. Really the only thing that matters by show time is watching the conductor, the rest should be on semi auto pilot.

Finally... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31880888)

Some justification for talking on the cell phone while driving.

not me, I got a one-track mind (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31881070)

-- a dirt track!

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