Understanding the Psychology of Multi-tasking

A recent study conducted by cognitive psychologists says that multi-tasking is not possible. These experts on psychology add that our brains will not allow us to do many things simultaneously. What the brain actually does is that it switches from one task to another alternatively and when this happens rapidly, we think that we are multi-tasking. But we do not realize that we are burdening our brain functions like attention, focus or memory and the impact of this on the brain may be quite severe. For example, if you talk over your cellphone while driving, you may be cognitively impaired in due course of time.


These researchers have found a group known as “super-taskers” whose brains may function differently. These people do not get overwhelmed even if they do two tasks simultaneously. They are able to do this because they may have developed a knack to keep distractions off and so, they may have the combined power of attention and memory.

Can multitasking skills be developed?

This means you can also achieve such multi-tasking abilities if you keep distractions off. There may be some people who may have gotten this power genetically, but researchers say that multi-tasking abilities can be learned by improving the ability to keep off distractions. The best way to learn this is to focus on developing single-tasking without getting distracted. This will improve the cognitive control and once this is achieved, multi-tasking skills can be gradually acquired.

Multi-tasking and productivity

Experts on psychology maintain that for normal people, multitasking is not advisable because it can reduce their productivity. They say that their productivity can come down by about 40 percent. Further, those who try multi-tasking may not be able to keep off distractions and so, they may face the issue of mental blocks. This may decelerate their progress.

But there are some people who think that they are very good at multi-tasking. In fact, they may already be doing many things simultaneously. But the fact remains that they may not be as much effective and efficient in all these tasks as they think.

Many people have a notion that multi-tasking will increase productivity. On the contrary, this may reduce the quality of their output. This is because they may not be able to keep distractions off. On the other hand, if they indulge in single-tasking, they may succeed in keeping distractions away. Researchers have concluded that by doing many tasks simultaneously, these people may be impairing their own cognitive ability.

Multitasking and time loss

Researchers have also found that those who multitask lose a lot of time when their brains shift from one task to another rapidly. These studies have categorically shown that those who multitask are slow in completing specific tasks. Had they single-tasked on these jobs, they may have finished them more quickly. The study has found that these people may complicate the tasks severely also since they chose to do them as a part of their multitasking efforts.

When multi-tasking is attempted, the brain indulges in what is known as “goal shifting”. The brain also carries out what is called “role activation”. In goal shifting, the brain shifts from the goal of one task to another and in role activation, the brain tries to shift its focus from the role or rules of one task to those of another task. If this happens multiple times, the time wasted may be huge.

So, experts on psychology advise that people should refrain from multi-tasking to improve their efficiency and productivity.

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