Multi-Tasking Isn't All Bad

Posted on November 17, 2018

A recent published experimental study investigated the effects of multi-tasking on productivity, with the results suggesting that perceived multi-tasking alone may well lead to increases in productivity. This is contradictory to previous findings that attempting to juggle various tasks at the same time will lead to a drop in quality of task performance.

Previous evidence has shown that humans are unable to pay attention to several tasks simultaneously, and that when we attempt to multi-task, we are actually just switching between tasks instead of doing several things at once. More notably, our perception of multi-tasking can be manipulated – the current study examined if manipulating participants’ perception of multi-tasking would modify their level of engagement with the task.

Participants were divided into two conditions and both groups were tasked to watch and transcribe a documentary. One group was made to believe they would be completing two separate tasks – learning and transcribing the video – while the other group were made to believe they would be completing both components simultaneously. This meant that both groups completed the same activities and the only difference between them was their perception of how many tasks they were completing at one time.

The results found that participants who believed they were multi-tasking scored better on performance – they transcribed more words per second, showed higher accuracy and exhibited higher comprehension levels.

This result was supported by another study that looked at note-taking – participants who believed themselves to be multi-tasking showed higher quality and quantity of notes compared to those who perceived themselves to be only doing one task.

The reason why these results could show multi-tasking as beneficial to quality of performance could be due to the higher levels of engagement with the task. In another study, researchers found that participants who believed themselves to be multi-tasking exhibited greater pupil dilation, which is suggestive of greater mental effort to stay engaged.

These results do not mean that we should all multi-task, but rather, it’s the perception of multi-tasking while (possibly) only on a single task that enhances performance, and not switching back and forth between several tasks.


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Source material from Medical Xpress


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