The Negative Effects of Multitasking

May 7, 2010
In today’s society, a lot of people think they accomplish more by multitasking. People seem to feel the need to be constantly occupied. The definition of multitasking is the concurrent or interleaved execution of two or more Jobs by a single CPU, according to The truth is though, is that people aren’t machines. Multitasking is problematic and the decrease in the quality of the work compromises the increase in productivity. Multitasking also adversely affects your short-term memory and your ability to remember critical information. Worst of all, these effects can become permanent

In a recent study at Cornell University, students in an upper level communications course were split into two groups and given the same lecture, and then tested on the lecture immediately after. The first group of students was allowed to use their laptops to browse and search things on the Internet, while the second group of students didn’t use their laptops. In the test that followed the lecture, students who were in the first group did much worse on the test, and seemed to not be able to remember the information as well. A second experiment with the same conditions had the same results.

According to, when people who multitask are taking in multiple forms of media while working or studying, they tend to retain the more distracting information instead of what they actually were trying to learn. In a different study at Stanford University, volunteer college students were given a questionnaire about which forms of media they used, and how often they used them simultaneously. After the questionnaire, the volunteers were given a series of tests in which they had to classify words, as well as switch back and forth between classifying letters and numbers. After the tests, it was discovered that people who regularly use more than one type of media have slower reaction times because they were more easily distracted. Even though the decrease in reaction times averaged only about half a second, this can still be a major problem in every day life.

Multitasking makes people more easily distracted and makes it harder to pick out the useful information from all the useless information and can make even simple tasks hard to focus on, even when not multitasking, and even if focusing on a single thing, people who multitask heavily are at a disadvantage, because it’s harder for them to pay attention. In addition, multitasking can cause symptoms of ADHD, even though not actually being able to cause ADHD. Even though it just causes symptoms of ADHD, these effects can become permanent, meaning that people who multitask may soon have a disorder that simulates ADHD, regardless of if they were born with it or not.

If the trends in today’s society continue, we may have a future where focus on a single topic may be impossible, and the flow of spectacular and new inventions will grind to a halt because the quality of work in the world will have dropped dramatically. Nothing will get done because people can’t remember what to do because their short term memory has been almost obliterated, and it will seem like everyone you meet has ADHD. I’m pretty sure no-one wants a future where this is the case, but it’s very possible given the circumstances of today. My advice to you is to turn off the TV, ipod and cell phone and just get your work done.

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