Classical psychology text books tell us that people cannot multitask. They say it's psychologically impossible. But we are multitasking more and more, not only in our workplace but also at home. Are we really getting more things done? Not really, say Professor Clifford Nass and his colleagues Eyal Ophir and Anthony Wagner of Stanford University. In a study of two groups of people - one made up of heavy multitaskers and the other made up of people who did not multitask as much - they found that the heavy multitaskers consistently underperformed the light multitaskers in problem solving because the heavy multitaskers allowed themselves to be distracted by superfluous or irrelevant information, which they were specifically instructed to ignore. Wagner, an associate professor of psychology said, "When they're in situations where there are multiple sources of information coming from the external world or emerging out of memory, they're not able to filter out what's not relevant to their current goal. That failure to filter means they're slowed down by that irrelevant information."
Other studies seem to support the above conclusions including the one conducted by two French scientists Sylvain Charron and Etienne Koechlin of the Institut National de la Santé and Ecole Normale Superieure, who say that the human brain cannot simultaneously pursue multiple goals. It is overwhelmed when dealing with multiple tasks resulting in irrelevant information being stored in memory. This not only impairs the brain's ability to function optimally when required to solve a specific problem but contrary to popular belief the study also found that multitaskers take longer to switch from one task to the other when compared to light multitaskers.
In the January 2012 issue of Harvard Health, P.J. Skerrett, senior editor, quotes Paul Hammerness and Margaret Moore, authors of Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life, as saying, "multitasking increases the chances of making mistakes and missing important information and cues. Multitaskers are also less likely to retain information in working memory, which can hinder problem solving and creativity. Instead of trying to do several things at once—and often none of them well—Hammerness and Moore suggest what they call set shifting. This means consciously and completely shifting your attention from one task to the next, and focusing on the task at hand. Giving your full attention to what you are doing will help you do it better, with more creativity and fewer mistakes or missed connections. Set shifting is a sign of brain fitness and agility, say the authors."
However there are some who argue that a lack of focus can sometimes be good for creativity. The results of a new study by Kelvin Lui and Alan Wong from The Chinese University of Hong Kong, released on April 12, 2012, says people aged 19 to 28 who frequently use different types of media at the same time appear to be better at integrating information from vision and hearing when asked to perform a specific task. Using both vision and hearing to perform a specific task is not multitasking. It's the way humans normally work, no matter what the task.