Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Katie. Katie Wonders, “How are we able to multitask?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Katie!
For most kids these days, there's no shortage of things to keep them busy throughout a typical day. They need to eat three healthy meals and get a good night's sleep. They need to go to school, do their homework, and excel in their classes.
Many kids also spend an hour or more each day on extracurricular activities, including academic competitions, competitive sports, band, choir, and the list goes on and on. Even after attending to all those things, kids still have lots to do.
They have to keep up with their friends on social media, posting pictures of their day and responding to messages. Many kids spend time trying to surpass their high score on their favorite video game. Others read, listen to music, or watch television shows or movies.
How can they find time for all these things? Many kids learn lessons from their friends and family members who do all these things and more. How do they do it? They do more than one thing at a time, a feat commonly called multitasking.
Have you ever engaged in multitasking? We bet you have! In fact, we bet you do it all the time. The next time you're sitting at the dinner table eating pizza while posting a selfie to Instagram while texting your best friend while completing your homework, remember the word for it: multitasking.
Recently, however, scientists who study human behavior have begun to question whether humans are very good at multitasking. Some even question whether we're really multitasking at all.
Although modern technology seems to enable us to do more than one thing at once easier than ever before, some researchers say the concept of multitasking is nothing more than a myth. Instead, they believe that what we're really doing is switching between multiple tasks extremely quickly — what experts call "serial tasking" rather than multitasking.
Researchers have found that many of the things we believe we're doing simultaneously, such as texting and talking and reading at the same time, actually compete to use the same parts of the brain. This strains our abilities and the result is that we can't effectively focus on more than one thing at a time.
What we happen to be good at, however, is switching between tasks with amazing speed. The part of the brain that controls this fast switching is known as the executive system, and it resides in the frontal lobes of the brain (the area above the eyes).
Given these findings, researchers believe true multitasking can only occur if two conditions are met: (1) one or more of the tasks must be nearly automatic or "second nature," such as walking; and (2) the tasks you're trying to perform simultaneously must involve different brain processes.
Is the myth of multitasking a big deal? Maybe not. Perhaps we're trying to do too much to our own detriment. Members of the American Psychological Association claim that multitasking is both inefficient and ineffective. Their research shows that multitasking can take as much as 40% more time than simply focusing on one task at a time.