by Preston Miller
As a young person I am officially apart of the “M” Generation that is, the multi-tasking Generation. Today we can access vast amounts of information that surpasses any physical database. Today you’ll see us working on their homework while listening to music and other media forms. We even have conversations with people in front of us while talking to a friend on Facebook. However, contrary to popular opinion recent studies have shown that today’s young people are not any better at multi-tasking than other generations and in fact it may have negative effects on brain development.
According to the following studies, you can only give your full attention to one task at a time. What seems like multi-tasking is really ordering our tasks and rapidly switching between them. It is not possible to perform two high cognitive functions. For example, you cannot read a paper thoroughly and discuss it at the same time. A study conducted by Elinor Ochs with thirty-two families has discovered the part of the brain responsible for attention switching with the use of fMRI scans. It is called the Brodmann’s Area 10 and is located in the brain’s anterior prefrontal cortex. Brodmann’s Area 10 is very slow to develop and very quick to degrade as one ages.
Younger people do have one advantage though. We are able to work when we are surrounded by distractions, whereas older adults have problems blocking out outside interference. This advantage does not apply to Generation M, just young people in general. In fact, in another study results have shown that Generation M’s ‘multi-tasking’ has a negative effect on time efficiency and error-making odds. This study, described in the same article as above, was conducted by David E. Meyer on Generation M students. Meyer explains that a teenager trying to do three things at once, like a conversation, e-mail, and homework, they will have a decrease in efficiency compared to doing those tasks one at a time. His results show that ‘multi-tasking’ while working exponentially increases the amount of errors made and often the time more than doubles. Multi-tasking is not only a myth but also a very non-efficient method of working.
Multi-tasking my actually have adverse effects on the brain’s development. According to an Washington Post article this may lead to a lack of analytical skills and even worse, procrastination. Since one’s brain is still developing during their teenage years it is conceivable that this could lead to the side effects described above. Unfortunately, no studies have been performed as of yet because Generation M is still too young. With sixty-five percent of teenagers describing themselves as ‘multi-taskers’ whatever the outcome on brain development it will affect a huge portion of the young soon-to-be working generation.
Aratani, Lori. (2007). Teens can multitask, but what are costs? The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/02/25/ AR2007022501600.html.
Wallis, Claudia. (2006). The multitasking generation. Time. Retrieved from http://www.fritzhubbard.org/words/The_Multitasking_Generation.pdf