Brains for Instinct

Multi-tasking is something we’ve long been encouraged to practice, but it turns out multitasking is actually impossible. When we think we’re multi-tasking, we’re actually context-switching. That is, we’re quickly switching back-and-forth between different tasks, rather than doing them at the same time.
The book Brain Rules explains how detrimental “multi-tasking” can be:
Research shows your error rate goes up 50 percent and it takes you twice as long to do things.
The problem with multi-tasking is that we’re splitting our brain’s resources. We’re giving less attention to each task, and probably performing worse on all of them:
When the brain tries to do two things at once, it divides and conquers, dedicating one-half of our gray matter to each task.
Here is how this looks like in reality. Whilst we try to do both Action A and Action B at the same time, our brain is never handling both simultaneously. Instead, it has to painfully switch back and forth and use important brainpower just for the switching:
how our brain works, how our brains work multitasking and the brain
When our brains handle a single task, the prefrontal cortex plays a big part. Here’s how it helps us achieve a goal or complete a task:
The anterior part of this brain region forms the goal or intention—for example, “I want that cookie”—and the posterior prefrontal cortex talks to the rest of the brain so that your hand reaches toward the cookie jar and your mind knows whether you have the cookie.
A study in Paris found that when a second task was required, the brains of the study volunteers split up, with each hemisphere working alone on a task. The brain was overloaded by the second task and couldn’t perform at its full capacity, because it needed to split its resources.
When a third task was added, the volunteers’ results plummeted:
The triple-task jugglers consistently forgot one of their tasks. They also made three times as many errors as they did while dual-tasking.

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