Apr 20, 2010

Overload: doing many things at once can make us less efficient

(Fragment of article written By John Naish, for

Multi-tasking has rapidly taken over our lives, to the point where we look woefully lax if we’re doing just one thing at a time.

We think nothing of texting while also watching television, surfing the internet and talking to our family.

Indeed, drug companies are busy developing products to enhance our mental efficiency so that we can do even more.

But scientists are discovering that today’s mania for cramming everything in at once is creating a perilous cocktail of brain problems, from severe stress and rage in adults to learning problems and autism-like behaviour in children.

It also, ironically, often makes us less efficient. Advances in medical-scanning technology mean we can now watch what happens in the brain when people try to perform more than one complex task at a time. And the news isn’t good.

The human brain doesn’t multi-task like an expert juggler; it switches frantically between tasks like a bad amateur plate-spinner.

The constant effort this requires means that doing even just two or three things at once puts far more demand on our brains compared with if we did them one after another.

The pioneer of this research is Professor Earl Miller, a neuroscientist at the world-renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He scanned volunteers’ heads while they performed different tasks and found that when there is a group of visual stimulants in front of you, only one or two things tend to activate your brain, indicating we’re really only focusing on one or two items.

In other words, our brains have to skitter to and fro inefficiently between tasks. But the real problem occurs when we try to concentrate on the two tasks we are dealing with, because this then causes an overload of the brain’s processing capacity.

This is particularly true when we try to perform similar tasks at the same time - such as writing an email and talking on the phone - as they compete to use the same part of the brain. As a result, your brain simply slows down.

Even just thinking about multi-tasking can cause this log-jam, as Glenn Wilson, a psychiatrist at the University of London, reported a few years ago.


Apr 14, 2010

Are you a Supertasker?

Interesting thoughts from Cody Burke, a senior analyst at Basex.

"...We all believe we are special. Indeed, that’s why we would all likely be in agreement that talking on the phone or texting while driving is dangerous and should not be done.

Yet when push comes to shove, we may make exceptions for ourselves, and take a call that comes in while we careen down the freeway.

We tell ourselves that we can handle it, that we are adept multitaskers, or supertaskers, even as we give dirty looks to others doing the same thing.

It appears that some of us are right about being supertaskers, but it is probably not who you think (meaning not you)."

Keep reading...

Apr 5, 2010

Are web sources credible?

That overly broad question is based on the false premise that Web sources are more or less of equal quality.

Instead, ask two targeted questions:

1) How much trust — or how little trust — should one place in specific Internet sources?

2) what are meaningful criteria for answering that kind of question?

But you can learn to evaluate the credibility of Internet sources systematically.

You can do this evaluation by answering some basic questions.

* Who is the author? (individual, corporate, pseudonymous…)

* How qualified is the person or organization responsible for the website or e-mail communication?

* Are primary and secondary sources for claimed facts cited clearly enough?

* Is this website logically organized?

Read other Vincent Pollard's thoughts about the credibility of Internet information in his article.