Human Multi-Tasking

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Human multitasking is the best performance by an individual of appearing to handle more than one task at the same time. The term is derived from computer multitasking. An example of multitasking is taking phone calls while typing an email. Some believe that multitasking can result in time wasted due to human context switching and apparently causing more errors due to insufficient attention.

Etymology

The term "multitasking" originated in the computer engineering industry.[1] It refers to the ability of a microprocessor to apparently process several tasks simultaneously.[2] Computer multitasking in single core microprocessors actually involves time-sharing the processor; only one task can actually be active at a time, but tasks are rotated through many times a second. With multi-core computers, each core can perform a separate task simultaneously. The first published use of the word "multitask" appeared in an IBM paper describing the capabilities of the IBM System/360 in 1965.[3] [edit]Research on human multitasking

Since the 1990s, experimental psychologists have started experiments on the nature and limits of human multitasking. It has been shown multitasking is not as workable as concentrated times. In general, these studies have disclosed that people show severe interference when even very simple tasks are performed at the same time, if both tasks require selecting and producing action (e.g., (Gladstones, Regan & Lee 1989) (Pashler 1994)). Many researchers believe that action planning represents a "bottleneck", which the human brain can only perform one task at a time.[4] Psychiatrist Edward M. Hallowell[5] has gone so far as to describe multitasking as a “mythical activity in which people believe they can perform two or more tasks simultaneously as effectively as one.” Others have researched multitasking in specific domains, such as learning. Mayer and Moreno[6] have studied the phenomenon of cognitive load in multimedia learning extensively and have concluded that it is difficult, and possibly impossible to learn new information while engaging in multitasking. Junco and Cotten examined how multitasking affects academic success and found that students who engaged in more multitasking reported more problems with their academic work.[7] A more recent study on the effects of multitasking on academic performance found that using Facebook and text messaging while studying were negatively related to student grades, while online searching and emailing were not [8]. [edit]The brain's role in multitasking

Because the brain cannot fully focus when multitasking, people take longer to complete tasks and are predisposed to error. When people attempt to complete many tasks at one time, “or [alternate] rapidly between them, errors go way up and it takes far longer—often double the time or more—to get the jobs done than if they were done sequentially,” states Meyer.[9] This is largely because “the brain is compelled to restart and refocus”.[10] A study by Meyer and David Kieras found that in the interim between each exchange, the brain makes no progress whatsoever. Therefore, multitasking people not only perform each task less suitably, but lose time in the process. When presented with much information, the brain is forced to pause and refocus continuously as one switches between tasks.[10] Realistically, this is “a rapid toggling among tasks rather than simultaneous processing.” According to a study done by Jordan Grafman, chief of the cognitive neuroscience section at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, “the most anterior part [of the brain] allows [a person] to leave something when it’s incomplete and return to the same place and continue from there,” while Broadman’s Area 10, a part of the brain’s frontal lobes, is important for establishing and attaining long term goals.[9] Focusing on multiple dissimilar tasks at once forces the brain to process all activity in its anterior. Though the brain...
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