I’ve long asserted that multitasking causes stress. In fact, studies prove that effective multitasking is a myth. This is the reason that I continually refer to this activity as “switch-tasking,” rather than “multitasking.” The belief that engaging in multiple activities at once, such as texting while driving or conversing while typing, somehow allows us to concentrate on several things at once is simply not valid.
Today it is well accepted that attention is limited in capacity. The findings are clear: Our performance deteriorates drastically when we attempt to focus on more than one task at a time. And in the process, our stress level increases.
Traffic intersection violations are potentially hazardous events. There are a number of cases where a driver talking on a cell phone failed to notice a red traffic light and proceeded through the intersection causing an accident that resulted in serious injuries or fatalities. Understanding when we can and cannot multitask is not just an academic exercise. In driving it can be a matter of life and death.
The brain does not prioritize information by its importance when deciding what is “lost” while the driver is on the phone. Lapses of attention essentially render drivers partially blind to details directly in their gaze.
The fact is that trying to do several things at once actually diminishes your skills. Even worse, all this multitasking causes stress.
Studies suggested that people who were high multitaskers had lower working memory capacity, were more impulsive and sensation-seeking, and tended to rate their own ability to multitask as higher than average. Interestingly, their perceived ability and actual ability to multitask were inversely related. It was suggested that overconfidence, rather than skill, drives the proliferation of multitasking.
The study concluded that the majority of us cannot multitask without significant costs.