Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Dangers of Emailing, IMing, Texting, Calling ...

New studies show, yet again, that technology makes us stupid. Or at least less effective. And that the best way to accomplish something successfully -- whether it's driving a car, crossing a street, standing in a train station, or writing a book -- is to turn off the tech. I've blogged about the problems that come with constant emailing several times in the past. Now, today's New York Times reports on the newest studies into how multitasking messes with your brain:

"The human brain, with its hundred billion neurons and hundreds of trillions of synaptic connections, is a cognitive powerhouse in many ways. “But a core limitation is an inability to concentrate on two things at once,” said René Marois, a neuroscientist and director of the Human Information Processing Laboratory at Vanderbilt University.

"Mr. Marois and three other Vanderbilt researchers reported in an article last December in the journal Neuron that they used magnetic resonance imaging to pinpoint the bottleneck in the brain and to measure how much efficiency is lost when trying to handle two tasks at once. Study participants were given two tasks and were asked to respond to sounds and images. The first was to press the correct key on a computer keyboard after hearing one of eight sounds. The other task was to speak the correct vowel after seeing one of eight images."
There was no delay when participants did the tasks one at a time, but when researchers asked them to do tasks two at a time, both tasks were completed slower. This isn't surprising. What's interesting to me is that they actually pinpointed the area in the brain where this bottleneck takes place, and showed that this delay happens regardless of what multitasking you're doing, and which senses it involves. So listening to something (say, music with lyrics, or a television) while reading something causes the same bottleneck effect in the brain as trying to read two things at once. Which is very interesting. The solution, according to the Times:

"These experts have some basic advice. Check e-mail messages once an hour, at most. Listening to soothing background music while studying may improve concentration. But other distractions — most songs with lyrics, instant messaging, television shows — hamper performance. Driving while talking on a cellphone, even with a hands-free headset, is a bad idea."

No big surprise there. But still, very interesting.

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Sunday, March 18, 2007


Okay, so Culture Dish has been sleeping -- sorry about that. But it will wake up soon, with plenty of news and developments (which will explain the blog silence). So stay tuned ...