The myth of multitasking

Trying to do too many things at once can lead to not doing any of them well

We all know the siren call of the cell phone. Hearing it vibrate in class to see your friend has finally texted back, or taking a 10-minute break from studying by going on Instagram and suddenly realizing 30 minutes have passed. Sound familiar? 

There are all kinds of distractions that can result from the use of technology, but we’re Gen Z. We’ve had smartphone and advanced technology our entire lives. We believe that we’re great multitaskers with it, but is that true? 

Amit Almor, an associate professor in the department of psychology and a researcher with a focus in language and memory, says not exactly. The brain can handle performing certain actions at the same time very easily, like driving a car and listening to the radio, but others are harder for it to handle. 

It’s usually a network, or networks, in the brain that support tasks, so if the same network is asked to support two separate tasks then we get into trouble, Almor said. 

Paying attention to what’s on a phone and trying to pay attention to class is no easy feat either, for teachers or students. 

For the classroom discussion material to take over your desire to check the phone and see what your friends are saying or do all the things you use the phone for, the bar nowadays has to be very high,” Almor said. The professor now has to be an entertainer, or you must be really personally inclined, interested or tickled in an emotional way by this material. 

And what if the phone wins?  

Almor said that first your senses disengage, so you’re no longer looking at the professor and you’re not really hearing what she is saying, making it harder for you to process the information and encode it in your memory. Then cognitive control, our conscious resources that we use when trying to accomplish a task, are also taken away and refocused on our phone instead of what’s being taught.  

It really hits us with a one-two punch that makes studying harder than it needs to be, but there’s hope. The Student Success Center is here for students who are having trouble focusing or studying for classes. 

Lauren Brown, assistant director of the Student Success Center, says her office encourages students to work smarter, not harder. Our brains can take only take so much at one time, so instead of thinking as studying like a marathon think of it as a sprint. Instead of holding an eight-hour study session the night before the exam, start doing one-hour intense study sessions the entire week leading up to it.  

Brown says decisions students make at the beginning of their week can affect the rest of itso plan, prioritize and complete tasks based on urgency and importance. For more helpful tips, be proactive and schedule a consultation with the Student Success Center. 

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