March 25, 2016 1:38 pm
Updated: March 25, 2016 4:49 pm

Myth buster: St. Thomas University prof says people can’t really multitask

WATCH ABOVE: A study out of Saint Thomas University in Fredericton says most subjects rate themselves as pretty average when it comes to multi-tasking, but researchers are saying it’s never that good. Jeremy Keefe reports.

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Can you walk and chew gum at the same time? Wash dishes while having a conversation? Are you a multitasker?

If the answer is no, then according to a professor at St. Thomas University, you aren’t alone.

According to psychology professor Sandra Thomson’s research, humans aren’t really capable of doing more than one thing at a time.

“When people think they’re multitasking what they’re actually doing is rapidly shifting their attention between tasks,” Thomson said.


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“But only one task ever really occupies the focus of their attention at a time.”

Through lab work that has subjects completing simple tasks simultaneously Thomson has noted that in all cases, one task or another always ends up getting placed on the back burner.

“We talk about it as if there’s a bottle neck on the brain and for certain stages of selective attention and paying attention in the world you can only do that for one thing at a time,” Thomson said.

“Whatever task they prioritize and do first they do quite well on but whatever that secondary task is they’re much slower to get that one done.”

Faster isn’t necessarily better

Like most activities, the research shows subjects can improve on the speed in which they do two simultaneous tasks however that improvement is only limited to the specific activity and doesn’t translate to any other functions.

“You might be faster but that doesn’t mean that it’s not still hindering your learning or your memory or your ability to do the task,” said Brittany Harris a student who is writing her thesis on the study.

“I think with ‘multitasking’ people think because they do it a lot that they’re better at it which isn’t true.”

The news may not come as a shock to those who admittedly have trouble focusing on more than one thing at a time, but Thomson hopes the study will open the eyes of those who aren’t giving their full attention to important aspects of their day.

“If we’re making these kinds of errors and slowing down our reaction time for simple tasks like that,” Thomson said.

“You can just imagine how much more that happens in the real world when you’re driving and talking on your cell phone”

 

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