Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Generation Multi

Credit: Kaspars Grinvalds/adobe

Credit: Kaspars Grinvalds/adobe

By Kelly Garner & Paul Dux

As technology continues to become more richly embedded in our daily lives, so too comes the increased demand and temptation to multitask. But can we improve our ability to do two things at once?

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

How many times have you attempted to multitask today? Did you check your emails while ordering your morning coffee? Or update your social media status while listening to the news?

We have long known that engaging in two tasks simultaneously, even if they are simple, negatively impacts the performance of the component tasks. For example, conversing on a cell phone while driving can impair performance as profoundly as driving under the influence of alcohol.

Frequent engagement in multitasking renders us vulnerable to distraction, and can disrupt learning in the classroom. In addition, our ability to multitask deteriorates as we age, and is strongly impacted by neuropsychiatric injury or disease.

Thus, whether for safety, learning or health, understanding the benefits and shortcomings of multitasking is of significance yet remains poorly understood.

In order to multitask successfully, we depend on the co­ordinated function of the frontal, parietal and subcortical regions in the brain. Our frontal and parietal regions are incredibly flexible information processors whose function is to coordinate and prioritise all of the little tasks we perform in order to meet our many daily goals. Disruption of these brain regions causes problems in the mental functions that we need to successfully navigate daily life, such as keeping a shopping list in mind,...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.