Multi-tasking: Sorry, you can't do more than two things at once

Discussion in 'Off The Beaten Track' started by BlueRidge, Apr 16, 2010.

  1. BlueRidge

    BlueRidge AYS's snark-sponge

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    So says a new study of the brain:

    Why We Can't Do 3 Things at Once (LiveScience)

    Do you think you can do more than two things at once? Or do you try to even though you can't? :lol:

    and then there are those of us that have trouble making choices at all... :shuffle:
     
  2. *Jen*

    *Jen* Well-Known Member

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    I call BS on the choices thing. Discarding options until it comes down to 2 is still making choices. If you have 2, you reject one of the options. That's just how it workls.

    As for multi-tasking...I'm fairly sure I can do more than 2 things at once :shuffle:
     
  3. BlueRidge

    BlueRidge AYS's snark-sponge

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    Hopefully, one of them is not driving... :saint:
     
  4. Evilynn

    Evilynn ((Swedish skating dudes))

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    How do they define "things"? I can layer belly dance movements on top of one another and still play the zills. ;) Or is "dancing" (nevermind how many movements is layered on one another) considered one thing and playing the zills another? Or are "things" only things you have to put more of a conscious mental effort into?
     
  5. *Jen*

    *Jen* Well-Known Member

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    Nope. Apart from the fact I don't have a car, I was taught to drive by my father who, as a sixteen year old, survived an accident which killed his own father.

    I didn't even listen to the radio for years after I got my licence because he was such a driving Nazi :shuffle:
     
  6. MOIJTO

    MOIJTO Banned Member

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    Really?

    I have no trouble making decisions at all, its quite easy when you know your priorities.

    I can do far more than 2 things at once, its a mandatory requirement of women!

    I could never understand what "multi-tasking" was some, psuedo-pyscho babble.

    I just stay busy....very very busy!
     
  7. susan6

    susan6 Well-Known Member

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    Dancing while playing the zills and balancing a sword on my head is also do-able. I call BS on this study.
     
  8. *Jen*

    *Jen* Well-Known Member

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    Well it was written by a man. And it's a well known fact that men can't multi-task :saint:
     
  9. BlueRidge

    BlueRidge AYS's snark-sponge

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    I haven't had a chance to read the whole original report, but I'm guessing that "can't do" is too strong a conclusion, more that the study shows that the brain is set up to easily divide up two tasks, and more than two are considerably more difficult and therefore done less effectively.

    Here's the concluding paragraph from the study:

    Divided Representation of Concurrent Goals in the Human Frontal Lobes
    (full text available by subscription only)
     
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2010
  10. Prancer

    Prancer Dysteleological Staff Member

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    I don't think that would be considered doing three things, though, because while you are doing three different things, they are three things that comprise one whole. IOW, you are performing three related tasks with a single goal.

    What they are talking about, I think, is doing three distinctly different things that have different purposes. For example, cooking and talking on the phone, the two-task sample given, is not the same as, say, cooking three different dishes at the same time for dinner.

    I think a better example of multitasking three things at once would be something like--can you balance your checkbook, watch TV and talk on the phone at the same time?
     
  11. BlueRidge

    BlueRidge AYS's snark-sponge

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    The study uses the word "goals" so I'm actually thinking they are talking about trying to achieve two or more goals at once--with each goal require doing a number of things at once--such as the dancing activity might, as Prancer notes there reading all of Prancer's post and thinking at the same time was too many things at once for me...
     
  12. Evilynn

    Evilynn ((Swedish skating dudes))

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    I'd call that 3 serialized tasks though, it's hard to stir 3 pots at once, unless you're very good with your feet. ;) With the dancing you are doing the different things simultaneously, it's like patting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time (while balancing a sword and playing the zills, if you had hands enough), it definitely takes a lot of practice, but it's doable.

    That's probably what they meant by "things", something you need active reasoning to accomplish (the article mentions sorting lists). With practice I think you could, but it'd probably be a sub-optimization. I read an article on a study of something similar not too long ago.
     
  13. BlueRidge

    BlueRidge AYS's snark-sponge

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    Seriously, I can't do any two of those things at the same time. I wonder what images of my brain would show... :shuffle:

    If you can pursue two goals at once, then shouldn't you be able to talk on the phone and drive at the same time?
     
  14. gkelly

    gkelly Well-Known Member

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    Well, it is possible to talk on the phone and execute routine driving at the same time.

    The problem is that it's not possible to talk on the phone and respond effectively to an emergency driving situation, or even a small unexpected change in the driving routine, at the same time.

    And because conditions in traffic are constantly changing unexpectedly, and it's possible for a driving emergency to arise at any time without warning, it's not a good idea to be doing something else at the time that would distract you from noticing or responding immediately and fully.
     
  15. TalentedButHumble

    TalentedButHumble Well-Known Member

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    Wow, I can't even wade throught that 'graph if it's the only thing I do. ;)
     
  16. Nan

    Nan Just me

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    They do have to put down their beer can to use the TV remote, don't they? ;)

    j/k
     
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  17. mpal2

    mpal2 Well-Known Member

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    Yes. You balance the check book during commercials. :D

    Seriously though, I could talk to the friend and balance the checkbook but would only be able to give you a high level summary of the tv show. If I was watching the show at a detailed level and balancing the check book it would impact the conversation with the friend (unless we were watching the show and talking about it).

    I don't know that I would put the limit at 2 activities or 3. I would say the number of things we multi-task would be limited by how much detail we need to have included in the task. The more complex it becomes the less likely we are to multi-task. If some activities become an auto-pilot function over time, something that used to be harder to multi-task would get easier.

    Simple autopilot example:

    When I first moved into my house I had to concentrate on vacuuming around the furniture. Now I know the reach and the angles and do a million other things as I'm zooming through the house.
     
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2010
  18. Japanfan

    Japanfan Well-Known Member

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    In which case you would be looking at the checkbook and doing the numbers - you could hear what was being said on the commercial at the same time, but if you got on the phone with someone you would probably have to tune out the commercial to listen and talk to them.

    It's possible to listen to multiple sounds at one time but the more complex the sounds, the harder it becomes. I doubt you could hear and process every word said on a TV while simultaneously hearing and process what someone was saying to you on person or in the phone. You have to tune out the one to pay attention to the other.

    I think what the article says about two things at a time is probably true. Very often what is considered multi-tasking is actually moving between a number of separate tasks done serially.

    I can talk on the phone, do something on the computer, and give my dog the hand signal for sit or chuck a ball in the air. But I have to stop typing if I am going to give a signal or chuck a ball, so at that moment, I'm only really doing two things, not three.

    But I do think people can choose between more than two things and do so on a regular basis. If anything two is often harder, because you may have narrowed down two things that you want/like the most.
     
  19. JJH

    JJH Well-Known Member

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    I'm just trying to master doing one thing at once.
     
  20. AYS

    AYS Cruder than you thought

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    I definitely multitask on >2 things frequently (particularly during the GP season :shuffle: )

    That being said, I'm a nervous frakkin wreck, so uh, there's that side of things to take into account. :fragile:
     
  21. annie_mg

    annie_mg Active Member

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    I'm training to become a conference interpreter. Believe me, we multitask(listening in one language, understanding, sometimes writing something down, and at the same time speaking, IN A DIFFERENT language).
     
  22. DAngel

    DAngel Active Member

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    I used to write essays while listening to music and eating dinner... Does that count as 3 activites? :lol:
     
  23. Japanfan

    Japanfan Well-Known Member

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    You can chew while you type and listen to music, but in the moments when you are using your utensils or picking up you sandwich, you are really doing only two things. It's like the example I gave above - you can do three things at one time, especially if one gets involves only one skill (i.e. chewing, looking). Chewing gum can be done with two other activities.

    But if the three are more complex, you're probably doing two of them sequentially.
     
    Last edited: Apr 17, 2010
  24. myhoneyhoney

    myhoneyhoney Well-Known Member

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    Let's see... if you watch me on a typical 5-6pm weekday you will see me: doing laundry/ helping 3 kids with their homework (my ADHD son is particularly difficult)/ cooking dinner/ and tending to my now 5 year old daughter. Hubby's at work at this hour so I have no help at all. I may move from one activity after another every 2 minutes or so but I know I can stir the pot/ add in ingredients, help my 2nd son with his fractions, ensure my 1st son is on task with his work, listen to my 6 year old read for her reading log, and keep a close eye on my pre-schooler (even holler at her if need be) all at the same time... maybe sequentially done but extremely quick...we're talking boom, boom, boom.

    I'm inclined to be skeptical because Koechlin is male and males are notorious for not being able to multi-task:rolleyes:. I wonder if any of his colleagues were females?
     
  25. KatieC

    KatieC Well-Known Member

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    I'm reading this thread, eating and listening for the dishwasher to stop all at the same time. (That's using three different senses, but I also count that those dishes are being washed too - efffective multi-tasking :) )
     
  26. Japanfan

    Japanfan Well-Known Member

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    Males can multi-task but it's a learned skill and traditionally, women have learned because child-minding and house-tending involves a lot of multi-tasking - in contrast to more traditional male functions (i.e. hunting, farming,f fighting).

    I've no doubt that single dads or men more involved in parenting are better at multi-tasking. And that male chefs would be excellent multi-taskers.
     
  27. AYS

    AYS Cruder than you thought

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    I came across a study a few months ago that actually did an experiment that looked at brain activity in males and females while faced with more than one task, and there were definite differences....I'll have to go find it...

    But with many human traits, there are usually exceptions to the general tendency, and many genetic predispositions are subject to modification by learning or being overridden, at least to an extent, in various ways.
     
  28. Japanfan

    Japanfan Well-Known Member

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    Was it it about the corpus callosum? Research about that is often raised in support of arguments that women are more scattered/better at multi-tasking and men more focused and directive.

    I tend to question all gender research because it is so deeply influenced by gender norms and biases. And studies have been done which raise doubts about claims of biologically-based gender differences, including the corpus callosum. And it's been pointed out that children's brains actually continual developing after birth for a number of years and research shows that brain development is affected by culture and environment as well as biology. Cross-cultural studies are therefore really important in the investigation of biologically-based claims.

    One example is visual-spatial skills, which men are commonly seen to be stronger in than women. A study done by anthropologist J. W. Berry compared Eskimo children to the Temne children of Sierra Leone. Both live in very different physical environments (Eskimos living in largely featureless vast landscapes, the Temne living in lands with many more colors and more vegetation.). Also, Temne girls are much more restricted and granted far less autonomy than Eskimo girls . The study found no difference in visual-spatial skills of Eskimo boys and girls, while there was a marked difference in Temne boys and girls.

    A lot of different factors influence the development of visual-spatial skills - dads playing balls with boys, being one example. And so on and so forth. . .

    And I believe the same to be true of multi-tasking.
     
  29. Prancer

    Prancer Dysteleological Staff Member

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    I was talking to my husband about this over dinner and he said that he had just read about it in Marilyn vos Savant's column last week.

    http://www.parade.com/askmarilyn/2010/04/Sundays-Column-04-11-10.html

    What many people call “ multitasking” is a myth. Studies show that if a task requires concentration, you can’t actually do more than one at a time. You can think, listen to music, and run all at once because listening to music and running don’t require you to focus. But you can’t write a paragraph and read one at the same time.

    I think that's true; I also think that what most people think of as multitasking is really fast sequencing, which is not the same thing. But while I can talk on the phone and watch TV at the same time as long as the friend isn't telling me something I need to pay attention to and the show doesn't require my full attention, I can't talk to my friend and grade papers at the same time because grading papers requires a lot of concentration, and I sure couldn't balance the checkbook while doing anything else. I can make dinner and help the kids with their homework--but only as long as the homework is something I know very well and don't have to think about, which hasn't been the case for quite a while :shuffle:.

    I'm not sure that I buy that men can't multitask, either. A lot of men can't juggle household issues as well as women can, but a lot of them don't have as much practice, either. My husband can handle multiple complex jobs at work and does all the time; he regularly juggles multiple longterm projects and always has a good grasp on what is due when and when he needs to focus on one instead of another. He doesn't juggle, say, the kids' activities as well as I do, but he doesn't do it nearly as often, either. With a little practice, I think he would manage perfectly well, probably better than I do.
     
  30. BlueRidge

    BlueRidge AYS's snark-sponge

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    The study that I posted about doesn't give a breakdown of the sex of the research participants, so maybe it was skewed in some way we don't know about, but I'm kind of doubting its simply biased because a lead author is male.

    Its an interesting study that looked at people doing two tasks at once and used brain imaging to see which parts of the brain were active. They concluded that a particular portion of the brain easily divides to keep track of two tasks at once. When they gave the subjects three tasks the error rate and response time on the third task deteriorated significantly from that for the first two tasks when they were just given two.

    Or more or less something like that is what I got from reading the original peer-reviewed paper.