By John Salak –
Multitaskers, those either committed or forced to do more than one thing at a time, get bashed a lot. They are often the recipients of eye rolls from others who assume these taskers are disorganized, perpetually trying to catch after falling behind or simply trying to impress the hoi polloi with their public busy work.
And it’s not just the annoyed or unimpressed that have denigrated the uber active. Scientists have largely scoffed at the notion that multitaskers are productive. Verywellmind.com, in fact, reported that “research has shown that our brains are not nearly as good at handling multiple tasks as we like to think they are. Some research suggests that multitasking can actually hamper your productivity by reducing your comprehension, attention, and overall performance.”
The wellness site warned that by switching back and forth between activities creates massive distractions that slow individuals down, making them way less productive. Researchers at the University of Rochester would beg to differ. They now totally refute the notion that individuals can’t walk and chew gum at the same time—or at least not do it well. The university’s just-released research shows that the human brain has plenty of bandwidth and flexibility to take on various projects at the same time. In fact, multitasking may improve human activity in some cases.
“This research shows us that the brain is flexible and can take on additional burdens,” said David Richardson, the first author of the Rochester study. “Our findings showed that the walking patterns of the participants improved when they performed a cognitive task at the same time, suggesting they were actually more stable while walking and performing the task than when they were solely focused on walking.”
The Rochester team relied on a Mobile Brain/Body Imaging (MoBI) system to capture the combined impact of virtual reality, brain monitoring and motion. It was able to monitor how participants walking on a treadmill manipulated objects on a table, while simultaneously measuring their brain activity. It also monitored brain activity as they sat while performing these same tasks.
Ultimately, the ability to monitor brain activity during any of these set up could have far-reaching implications. “The MoBI allows us to better understand how the brain functions in everyday life,” explained Edward Freedman, Ph.D., the study’s lead author. “Looking at these findings to understand how a young healthy brain is able to switch tasks will give us better insight to what’s going awry in a brain with a neurodegenerative disease like Alzheimer’s disease.”
The research, of course, is only a start—but an important one. “Understanding how a young healthy brain can successfully ‘walk and talk’ is an important start, but we also need to understand how these findings differ in the brains of healthy older adults, and adults with neurodegenerative diseases,” added Richardson. “The next stage is expanding this research to include a more diverse group of brains.”
In the meantime, multitaskers are now vindicated, at least in part. Apparently, those so inclined can perform several activities at once and perform them well. But this doesn’t mean everyone should try everything at once. It is probably wise to skip simultaneously juggling live hand grenades and running chainsaws. Ditto for driving, eating, drinking and texting at the same time.