May 19, 2013
Digital Multitasking Has Drawbacks On The Job
April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
We are all addicted to our cell phones, iPads, Kindle Fires and laptops. Up-to-the-minute updates for email, news, social media and more are just a click or a touch away. All of this multitasking on our various gadgets isn´t necessarily good, according to a new study from Carnegie Mellon, and may actually be making us dumber. Fox News reports that the same devices that keep us plugged in also have obvious drawbacks.The study analyzed the impact of juggling modern communications on the brain while the person was working. The 136 participants were asked to read a short passage and answer questions about it. They were divided into three groups, the Daily Mail reports, called Control, Interrupted and On High Alert.
The researchers tested the participants twice. On the first run, the Control group was allowed to complete the test without interruption, while the Interrupted and On High Alert groups were warned they might be contacted for further instructions. Both groups were interrupted twice during the test.
For the second test, only the Interrupted group was bothered, while Control and On High Alert were allowed to finish without interruption. On High Alert had been warned again that they might be contacted during the second test, but were not.
The research team expected mistakes during the first test from the Interrupted and On High Alert groups, but were shocked when both groups answered correctly 20 percent less often than the Control group.
The Interrupted group, on the second test, closed the gap to 14 percent, suggesting that people who anticipate an interruption can learn to improve how they deal with it. The research team was surprised, however, to find that the On High Alert group — warned of an interruption that never came — improved 43 percent. They outperformed the Control test takers who had suffered no interruptions.
Dr. Eyal Pe´er, Carnegie Mellon psychologist, believes that this shows the interrupted group learned from their experience the first time and their brains adapted. Helping them to focus more on what they were doing, the On High Alert group was able to marshal the extra brain power to prepare for an interruption.
So, digital multitasking does have an effect on people´s work performance. However, it might be possible for people to train themselves to cope with distractions better, even if they don´t know in advance the interruptions are coming.