New Study: Multitasking is Bad for Your Brain

According to a new study, multitasking is bad for your brain—inhibiting your performance, and lowering both your IQ and EQ (a measure of emotional intelligence):

Research also shows that, in addition to slowing you down, multitasking lowers your IQ. A study at the University of London found that participants who multitasked during cognitive tasks experienced IQ score declines that were similar to what they’d expect if they had smoked marijuana or stayed up all night. IQ drops of 15 points for multitasking men lowered their scores to the average range of an 8-year-old child.

The lowering of IQ, though surprising, does seem reasonable. But EQ? That’s right, apparently multi-tasking is correlated to “brain damage” in the anterior cingulate cortex—the region of your brain most associated with empathy and emotional control. This may explain why those activites most frequently involved in multitasking (like checking multiple screens, juggling conversations, or “nocializing”) are generally considered anti-social. It’s hard to say whether or not multitasking actually causes this brain damage, or if people with emotionally atrophied brains are just more likely to multitask, but why take a chance, right?

One of the most interesting parts of this study looked at multitasking and self-perception:

But what if some people have a special gift for multitasking? The Stanford researchers compared groups of people based on their tendency to multitask and their belief that it helps their performance. They found that heavy multitaskers—those who multitask a lot and feel that it boosts their performance—were actually worse at multitasking than those who like to do a single thing at a time. The frequent multitaskers performed worse because they had more trouble organizing their thoughts and filtering out irrelevant information, and they were slower at switching from one task to another. Ouch.

All in all, I feel thoroughly justified in my resistance to multi-tasking over the course of my life. I prefer to give attention to only one thing at a time, and now I can tell people it’s because I’m trying to avoid brain damage.