An expert weighs in on the effects of multitasking on the brain.
You know the old trope, men can’t multitask but women can? Turns out, this battle of the sexes mentality isn’t actually true—for men or women.
In a Q&A with Berkeley Wellness, University of California San Francisco professor of neurology, physiology and psychiatry Adam Gazzaley (MD, PhD) says that when it comes to multitasking, all we’re (men and women alike) really doing is “fooling ourselves” into thinking we’re getting more than one thing done at a time—and done well.
In their lab, Gazzaley’s team has mapped the brain activity of participants performing more than one task at a time. In each study, from young adults to older persons, performance and accuracy of tasks decreased as the subjects performed more than one task at a time, and more so for those in the older age category. In other words, the more tasks subjects tried to do at one time, the more their performance suffered.
But poor performance isn’t the only issue. In not taking time to focus and slow down, Gazzaley notes, we miss opportunities to be mindful, in the moment and truly creative.
And technology is only crippling us. In an effort to not miss anything (fear of missing out—or FOMO), we try to do too much, causing us to perform at lower levels, and raising our stress and anxiety.
For example, stopping to “Instagram a moment.” In a recent study for the Association for Psychological Science, researchers found that while taking photos of events or things does in fact help us to visually remember moments better, it also negatively affects our auditory intake—impairing our ability to remember auditory information. So while you may remember that dazzling sunset over the Mediterranean from your last trip to Greece, you may not remember the romantic words spoken by your significant other as the sun was dropping below the horizon.
So, how do we re-shift our mindset?
Gazzaley advises to focus our attention on the task at hand and learn to set boundaries—by turning off our cellphones, silencing e-mail notifications and limiting the number of potential distractions so you can do one thing at a time, whether it’s work, time with family or just relaxing. And while according to Gazzaley it is possible that our brains may eventually learn to adapt and multitask, he recommends that we first learn to adapt our behavior, so we’re not subject to technology, but instead maintain control and power over it.
So ladies, don’t get mad at your man when he can’t multitask, because in reality, he can’t help it—and it turns out, you can’t either. And you know what? That’s OK. Slow down, enjoy the moment and take your time—and if anyone asks, blame your brain.
Photo credit: Death to the Stock Photo