Can multi-tasking affect your health? On the face of It, multi-tasking may seem like an efficient way to increase productivity and save you time and energy.
However, recent ongoing research has confirmed that multi-tasking can have negative effects. The impact is a reduction of levels in productivity and overall in some cases brain health.
Only If Different Stimuli Are Used, Is Multi-tasking Is Safe?
A consensus of experts agree that multi-tasking is safer, if the tasks do not involve using the same stimuli. One example would be reading a message from a laptop while listening to music at the same time. Our brain physiologically are not designed to deal with the same stimulus challenge, at the exact same time.
A striking example of a stimulus challenge would be driving a vehicle and texting on a phone at the same time. This is considered extremely dangerous to yourself and others. In this example you are using the same visual stimulus. They are both competing for the same limited focus. Although carrying out both activities at the same time, makes it appears you are multi-tasking. It is important to understand you can only be actively engaged with one or the other.
So instead of multi-tasking by doing two things at once, you are actually rapidly switching from one to the other, and back again. A frightening thought, If your attention is attracted to the phone for a second too long, the task of you consciously controlling the vehicle stops, and disaster can follow.
Another good example is when you are trying to listen to multiple conversations around you. It is impossible to listen to two people who are talking to you at the same time, because your auditory senses become overwhelmed.
Multi-tasking Can Also Harm Your Memory Ability
Multi-tasking can big a huge drain on mental energy. Each task that your mind engages in will drain a part of your mental energy. As your mental energy drains, you become more forgetful. This is caused by your mind starting drift and will find concentration becoming more difficult.
Even if you are able to complete the two tasks successfully. The high likelihood is you probably won’t be able to recall how you completed the tasks. This is because our brain don’t have the ability to fully focus on two or more tasks at the same time.
This means each time you multi-task, your mind becomes a juggling act. All you are achieving is a dilution of your mind’s investment towards each task.
Multi-taskers Think They Perform Better
A study headed by Zheng Wang, who is based at Ohio State University reveals that people who were text messaging whilst being asked to focus on the images displayed on a computer monitor, had decreased levels of performance.
What makes this finding even more worrying is that those subjects who were asked to multi-task using the same visual stimulus. Remember the driving and texting on a mobile phone example. They believed they performed better, despite the results showed the opposite.
This downward trend in their performance continued. Their ability to focus on images displayed on their computer screen plummeted by up to 50%. Even though they thought they were performing perfectly. The same study participants were also asked to multi-task using different stimuli. This included combinations such as visual and auditory. This combination was found to have reduced levels of performance as much as 30%.
Professor Wang stated that performance level perception when multi-tasking is not the same. He had the results prove his claims. Researchers have also found that media focused multi-tasking increases your risks of developing impaired cognitive control.
Some of the most current research is confirming that multi-tasking means “performing multiple tasks sub-optimally”. This leads to a downward spiral
with productivity losses. Add to this a compounding, accumulating burden placed on the mental and emotional faculties. Unsurprisingly, this results in accumulating levels of stress. Without these factors at play, is already a very real problem for many of us to some degree.
Although developments in technology today makes it difficult for us to avoid multi-tasking altogether. The key take home point is to make yourself more aware of when it is happening. Then attempting to remove the overload on your mind as much as you possibly can.