While multitaskers tend to believe that their brains are more efficient, they’re wrong. Studies show that when switching back and forth from one task to another, our neural circuits take a small break in between. This process reduces brain efficiency as the frontal lobe executive centers activate different neural circuits when attention shifts from task to task.
It is possible to improve our multitasking skills, depending on the type and difficulty of each task. For example, studies of surgeons show they can improve accuracy and speed of non-surgical task performance when they listen to music.
In these situations, music appears to enhance brain efficiency. Listening to music and performing manual tasks activates different parts of the brain; thus, effective multitasking sometimes involves different brain regions.
Other research has shown that when volunteers are motivated to perform multiple competing tasks, they will use both sides of the brain region performing the task, rather than just one side. It seems that when we use more parts of our brain, our multitasking abilities improve.
Multitasking has become a necessary skill of modern life. We have to acknowledge its challenges and adapt accordingly. Whenever possible, focusing on one task and avoiding task-switching will improve efficiency.
The next time I get a haircut, I will try to exercise both hemispheres of my brain, and make sure I am listening to the background music in the salon as I brush fallen hairs from my smart phone and keep up with the word games with my friends. If I’m going to multitask, I might as well try to improve my brain function at the same time.
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