The Modern Misrepresentation of Multitasking

Multi-tasking is a concept that is very popular in this modern age. The ability to perform numerous tasks at the same time to save time sounds like a wonderful ability to have when everything around you is so fast-paced. However, contrary to what they portray in science-fiction stories, the typical human brain is not capable of doing two things at once.


Before we continue on, it’s important to understand what we’re referring to when we say “multi-tasking”. In this case, it is the act of splitting our focus to two or more areas.


The simple explanation is that there’s a part of our brain called the prefrontal cortex (PFC) where its main role is to make you focus and be attentive. Despite how powerful we make it to be, typically it’s unable to focus on any more than one thing. When we do feel like multi-tasking, what’s most likely happening is a rapid attention shift. This change can be instantaneous and unnoticeable, which is why we tend to daydream or lose focus without noticing it ourselves. Even when we’re consistently shifting our focus between multiple tasks, your energy will deplete much faster compared to focusing on a singular task. (Staughton, 2019)

That being said, some people do excel in jobs where a list of tasks are needed to be done simultaneously, such as working as a restaurant manager.


Then why is it some people are able to sing while playing the piano? Why is it that so many people are able to talk while doing a very difficult math problem? For these examples specifically, these combinations of activities are actually quite different in nature. It is easier to multi-task when the set activity requires a distinguishable variety of thinking processes. (Adams, 2019)


For example, it would be difficult to recite a story from memory while composing a new story altogether at the same time. Both will require you to essentially “generate meaningful sentences”.

This proven hypothesis of multi-tasking also serves as a good foundation to the claim that it’s better to study while listening to classical/instrumental music, as compared to lyrical music. When you listening to songs with lyrics, you may get distracted and process the lyrics instead of what you’re supposed to do. Some people are able to “tune out” the lyrics and simply play them as background noise. However, most people are unable to do so. Listening to music that lacks lyrics will allow you to enjoy music while doing your work with minimal interruption. A similar study was done in University of Florida, 2015. (Hammond, 2019)


However, there are a select number of people who are able to multi-task to a further extent without compromising the quality of output. Regardless, what’s NOT right is using multi-tasking as an excuse to procrastinate.



Resources:

Adams, C. (2019, February 17). Can People Really Multitask? Retrieved February 25, 2020, from https://www.thoughtco.com/can-people-really-multitask-1206398


Hammond, C. (2016, February 19). Why your brain likes it when you multi-task. Retrieved February 25, 2020, from https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20160218-why-multi-tasking-might-not-be-such-a-bad-idea


Staughton, J., Pradhan, R., Yusuf, S., Thakur, V., & Ashish. (2019, October 20). Can Humans Actually Multitask? " Science ABC. Retrieved February 25, 2020, from https://www.scienceabc.com/humans/can-humans-actually-multitask.html

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