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Multitasking Is a Myth and Comes at a Neurobiological Cost

Daniel Levitin | 2:47


It turns out that multitasking is a myth. We think that we're doing a whole bunch of things at once. But we're not actually because the brain doesn't work that way. And a number of studies now have shown from Earl Miller's lab at MIT and others that what we're really doing is we're paying attention to one thing for a little bit of time, and then another and then another, and then we come back round to the first.

And all of these are separate projects that are occurring in separate parts of the brain. They require a separate start time, a separate monitoring process, and you end up fractionating your attention into little bits and pieces, not really engaging fully in any one thing. All that switching across tasks, comes with a neurobiological cost, it depletes resources.

So after an hour or two of attempting to multitask, if we find that we're tired, and we can't focus, it's because those very neurochemicals we needed to focus are now gone. There are some jobs that require not multitasking, because we know it doesn't exist, but this kind of rapid switching, um, air traffic controller, simultaneous translator at the UN, journalists, monitoring all these different things at once.

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