October 13, 2014

Evidence Piles Up Against Multitasking

If you are “good at” multitasking, recent research on the subject hasn’t been good news. In one study after another, multitasking has been shown to be bad for productivity — you could get the same things done faster if you could address them one by one. Multitasking is as bad for your mood as it is for your brain. It tends to leave people feeling frazzled, distressed, depressed. It rewires the brain in a way that reduces a person’s effective intelligence, and not just a little, but well below the level of a fully functioning adult. Much of this change in brain structure persists — researchers don’t know for how long, perhaps weeks but perhaps years, but either way, for some period of time your thinking capacity is reduced for everything you attempt, whether multitasking or single-tasking. This effect is so pronounced that some have said quite bluntly that multitasking causes brain damage. Researchers trying to find the exceptions, the people and situations for which multitasking has a beneficial effect on productivity or at least mood, keep drawing a blank. Every task they can think of testing is made worse by trying to do it at the same time as any other task.

And now there is worse news than all this, when it comes to multitasking. Multitasking never gets any better. It only gets worse.