Photo: Thomas Hawk
Most of us multi-task because it gives us this false perception that we’re managing our time effectively.But research shows that your brain can’t efficiently perform two or more tasks at the same time so you should never multi-task when trying to learn something new.
“A tremendous amount of evidence shows that the brain does better when it’s performing tasks in sequence, rather than all at once,” Stanford University professor Clifford Nass told Women’s Health.
In order to test how much your brain is actually “dumbed down” when you multi-task, researchers at UCLA conducted a study which found that people use a different part of their brain while multi-tasking compared to when they learn without distractions.
For the study, researchers provided the participants with cards they were asked to divide into two sets. With one set, they were able to learn the materials on the card without distractions. With the second set, they were asked to sort through the cards while listening to high and low beeps and simultaneously keeping a mental count of the high-pitch beeps.
The study concluded that when participants performed tasks without distractions, the hippocampus part of their brain was active, which is used for storing and recalling information. In contrast, when they performed their tasks simultaneously with the beeping sounds, they used a part of their brain called the striatum, which kicks in when you perform repetitive skills such as riding a bike.
The beeping sounds didn’t reduce accuracy on the participants’ sorting, but did effect them when they were asked to recall certain details of the task during a follow-up session.
Instead of multi-tasking, one can try “set shifting,” which means you’re consciously and completely shifting your attention from one task to the next. Successful set shifting demonstrates brain fitness and agility, but you can’t think about another task aside from the one you’re currently working on, says Paul Hammerness and Margaret Moore, authors of the book “organise Your Mind, organise Your Life.”