Kids think they are better multitaskers, but are they?

Tech Talk Tuesday #60: Do your kids think they are good multitaskers?

I am the first to say that I love multitasking. If I am cooking, researching for a film, emailing and stretching all at essentially the same time, I am happy. But then the happiness fades when I burn yet another pan (no joke) or can't recall anything from some research I just read or realize my stretching was half-hearted. 

Larry Rosen, a psychologist and researcher who is in Screenagers, conducted a study where he surveyed people from three generations ("Baby Boomers" 1946-1964, "Gen X" 1965-1978, "Net" 1978-on). Rosen asked the study participants what types of tech tasks they did simultaneously such as surfing the web while having a conversation. They scored how mentally taxing it was for them to pair different tasks together. You might think that the younger generations would say they found pairing tasks easier than older generations when tech was involved. Surprisingly all generations ranked each pair of tasks as having the same difficulty.  

We know the brain can handle certain kinds of tasks at the same time like walking and chewing gum because those actions don’t rely too much on the frontal cortex. However, our brains can't adequately process the performance of two tasks at the same time when those tasks require some thinking.

There was a study done on light versus heavy media multitaskers that looked at these two groups' ability to stay on task. The heavy multitasking media users performed significantly worse at staying on task than did the light multitaskers. This is important to consider as we raise a generation of kids who consume media at the same time they are checking their phones or playing a quick video game while doing homework. 

For this week's TTT let’s put some science into action with our families. Rarely do I say watch a video, but after dinner, watch this video

During dinner here is a fun game to try:

  • Ask everyone at the table to count down 10, 9, 8, ... 1 and note how quickly they can do it. 
  • Then do the same for A, B, C, ... and see how quickly they can go through the alphabet. 
  • Then ask them to say this sequence 10, a, 9, b, 8, c, ... and note the time.
  • Talk about the difference in ability to process these kinds of tasks.