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May 29, 2007 - Image 2

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Publication:
Michigan Daily Summer Weekly, 2007-05-29

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007
The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Multitasking impairs productivity

By SARAH SALA Marois published a study in
For the Daily December 2006 that located regions
where signals jam in the brain when
When LSA Junior Jessica Crayne a person tries to do too many things
writes a paper, she also divides her at once.
attention between websites like In the study, Marois shortened
MySpace and Facebook and plays the time between when a subject
techno music in the background. performed two tasks - responding
Like many students who juggle to a sound by pressing a button and
various academic and social activi- remarking verbally when an image
ties at the same time, Crayne said appeared - until the subject had to
focusing on manytasks at once helps do both at once.
her complete assignments. Marois found that the subject's
"It puts me in a fast pace and the response time to the second task
lyrics are repetitive so they're not was consistently delayedby one sec-
distracting," Crayne said. ond when the tasks were prompted
But many experts say there are simultaneously. When subjects were
definite limits to the benefits of mul- asked to do the two tasks separately
titasking because of the stress it puts there was no delay in reaction time.
on the brain to complete several jobs Marois said this is because per-
at once. forming activities together that
Rend Marois, a neuroscientist at require the same part of the brain
Vanderbilt University, said that it's causes it to inefficiently toggle
impossible to give equal attention to between the jobs.
multiple activities at once. Automatic functions like walking
"One of them is being compro- do not require much brain activity
mised," he said. because they are governed by mem-

ory, he said.
UCLA psychology Prof. Rus-
sell Poldrack said in an e-mail that
learning is reduced when the brain
has to manage a variety of tasks.
In his July 2001 study, Poldrack
discovered that multitasking com-
promises the way in which the brain
stores new information. He found
that when a person is distracted or
completing multiple tasks at once,
the brain circumvents the hippo-
campus, which stores new facts, and
instead usesthe striatum, whichtyp-
ically remembers habitual actions.
Ideas stored in the hippocampus
can be more readily applied to dif-
ferent scenarios than facts recalled
from the striatum, which the study
said facilitates simple, recurring
activities like memorizing a student
ID number by repeatedly typing it
on keyboards.
Poldrack said there isn't suffi-
cient data to make a claim about the
effects of background stimulation
like TV or music because these stim-

ulations are hard to measure.
Julie Lumeng, a research scien-
tist at the University's Center for
Human Growth and Development at
the University of Michigan, said that
no matter what stimuli are present a
productive learning environment is
one where a student is comfortable.
"People have different cognitive
styles. People might function better
in an environment with more stimu-
lation," Lumeng said.
William Stixrud, a neurophysiol-
ogist in Silver Spring, Md., said that
layering on stimuli can be beneficial
for studying as long as the sounds
and images don't compete with pri-
mary activities.
"For some kids having music in
the background kind of serves as
white noise," he said. "It helps them
deal with boredom and makes them
less anxious."
But multitasking becomes a prob-
lem when students can't limit the
attention they pay to activities out-
side their primary academic respon-
sibilities, experts say.
"Academic life requiring rote
memory doesn't suffer as much but
classes that require thinking will
be more challenging," said Jordan
Grafman, chief neuroscientist at the
National Institute of Neurological
Disorders and Stroke.
Grafman pointed to many studies
that have reported that multitask-
ers make more errors, perform tasks
slower and are more likely to lack
critical thinking skills necessary to
excell academically.
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