Friday, June 25, 2010

Stop doing whatever else you are trying to do at the same time

From Daniel T. Willingham, "Have Technology and Multitasking Rewired How Students Learn?" in American Educator (Summer 2010):

Survey data indicate that younger people do multitask quite often; over half of high school students report that they multitask "most of the time," and about 25 percent report watching television or chatting with friends while they do their homework. Young people report multitasking for more hours per day than older people, and laboratory tests show that younger people are better at multitasking than older people.

In fact, all of us perform tasks best when we do only one at a time. So, when laboratory tests find that younger people are better at multitasking than older people, what that really means is that younger people have less degradation of the speed and accuracy of each task, compared with when each task is done separately.

Young people's advantage in multitasking is not associated with them practicing it more, or enjoying it more, than older people.... The reality is actually somewhat surprising: college students who report being chronic multitaskers tend to be worse at standard cognitive control abilities - like rapidly switching attention between two tasks - that are important to successful multitasking.... It may mean that people who are not very good at mental control choose to multitask more frequently....

So, there is not evidence that the current generation of students "must" multitask. Is multitasking a good idea? Most of the time, no. One of the most stubborn, persistent phenomena of the mind is that when you do two things at once, you don't do either one as well as when you do them one a time.

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