Multitasking: Smart or Not?

By Namphuong Nguyen


Everyday, we happen to be multitasking, even when we are not aware of it. From texting and talking to a friend, to even attempting to study for two classes at once. This unawareness is simple, mainly because we are so used to incorporating two tasks at once. Unfortunately, multitasking is not useful to any individual. Multitasking is thought of as an important step to productivity, however that thought was found to be wrong.

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This is definitely a shock, but studies have shown our brains are not designed for multitasking! Although we keep thinking we can, we actually – can’t. Our brain are designed to solely focus on one task, and when we multitask, our brain is scattered on thoughts of trying to do Task A and B simultaneously. There are executive control process in our brain which allows us to control of what we are doing. Our prefrontal cortex in our brain is primarily responsible for most of our concentration. There are two phases that occur: Goal Shifting Phase and Rule Activation Phase. Goal Shifting Phase is pretty much when we concentration on doing Task A instead of Task B, while Rule Activation Phase is when our brain focuses on turning off the rules it needs for the first task and turning on the rules on the next one. The duration of time it takes to go through the Rule Activation Phase gradually increases as we steadily believe that multitasking is beneficial. This is quite possibly the reason why going back and forth from one subject to the next seems increasingly difficult over the years because our brains were not designed for this process.

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Additionally, although there are short delays when it comes to the Rule Activation Phase, it can become dangerous at times. For example, when one is driving, a tenth of a second of using your phone can make the difference between life and death.

In an experiment of analyzing multitaskers, research has shown that multitaskers happened to have more gray matter in the anterior cingulate cortex, the portion of the brain that is in charge of decision making and impulse control. Although this experiment did try to attempt the minimize the amounts of variables in this experiment, it is possible that not only just multitasking led to this increase in gray matter.

One reason we love to multitask is because our body releases the neurotransmitter dopamine every time we complete something, regardless of how large or small the accomplishment is. This encourages us to keep multitasking as this dopamine release makes us feel good.

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All in all, multitasking is evil and bad! Don’t do it, especially if you can avoid it! Try eliminating the possibilities that can cause you to multitask, and in the end your brain will be maximized to its fullest volume potential!

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Author: Rose Hendricks

I'm a PhD Candidate in Cognitive Science at UC San Diego. I work to better understand how metaphor shapes the way we perceive and think about the world.

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