Ouch! Multitasking is hurting my brain!
  • leadership
  • Blog post

Ouch! Multitasking is hurting my brain!

If you keep up with the news about learning and productivity, you probably already know that multitasking is no longer seen as a good thing. Numerous studies have shown that trying to do two jobs at once not only is impossible for the human brain, but also causes the brain to do worse at both tasks, and can create serious, lasting anxiety in the would-be multitasker.

That’s not the worst news, however. A recent study from researchers at the University of Sussex in Brighton, England, suggests that some kinds of multitasking can physically damage your brain. Whoa! What’s that all about?

Here’s what: The research team used a questionnaire to ask 75 British adults about their multitasking habits — specifically whether and how often they used more than one media device at a time, such as switching from one computer screen to another, texting via smart phone while watching television, and so forth. Then the research subjects were given MRIs to measure brain density.

Thinning out the gray matter
The results were stark: Those who were inveterate, frequent multitaskers showed lesser gray matter density in an important brain region known as the anterior cingulate cortex, which lies behind the prefrontal cortex at the front of the brain. The ACC, as it’s known to neuroscientists, plays a role in emotional control and decision-making.

Full disclosure: The study showed a strong correlation between media multitasking and lesser brain density. It’s conceivable, perhaps, that causation works the other way, that those with lesser brain density are more likely to multitask.

But while waiting for further research to show whether chicken or egg comes first, it seems to me that any prudent person would view these results with alarm, and check him- or herself for multitask overload.

And while you’re at it, maybe you want to review what you’re doing in your workplace to either encourage or discourage multitasking. Do you condone your people checking their phones and/or texting during meetings or media presentations? Do you have employees set up with two computer screens on their desks? Are you sure these are the kinds of things you want to do?

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