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The Psychology of Multitasking and Information Overload


Digital Stress And How It Effects Your Brain

Take a look at how many tabs and programs you have open. Odds are you are multitasking. As technology becomes more and more a part of our lives, most Americans are learning to do several things at once. Unfortunately, all of our *multitasking* may be anything but – and it can have some serious consequences.

Information Overload

Technology has changed the way that we process information – not to mention the amount of information we take in. The amount of media we consume daily has skyrocketed. In 1960 the numbers were 5 hours, while in 2010 the amount is 12 hours. The number of adults going online has increased as well: 10 percent of adults were online in 1995, 78 percent of adults were online in 2011, and 95 percent of teens were online in 2011. 61 percent admit to being addicted to the internet.

It does not help that we are surrounding ourselves with gadgets. The average computer user checks 40 websites a day and switches programs 36 times an hour. That means that we change tasks more than once every two minutes!

The Limitations That Come With Multitasking

No matter how productive our intentions appear to be, we might not be as good at multitasking as we may think. One explanation reveals why the human brain can only manage two tasks at once.

When the brain is faced with two tasks, each half of the medial prefrontal cortex focuses on one task. The anterior part of the frontal lobes allows us to switch between two things. However, when we start a third task, it is too much for the brain to deal with at once. The result being accuracy drops considerably.

In one study, 30 percent of those under 45 said computers, cell phones, and smart phones make it more difficult to focus.

The Multitasking Lifestyle

In an effort to manage all of the technology information available, many Americans and have adopted a multitasking lifestyle. A study by United States Army researchers and UC Irvine studied two different groups of people – one that had to access to email while the other group was cut off. Their study revealed that people with email switch windows 37 times per hour, while those without email switch 18 times per email. People that switched screens to read their email change the screen twice more than those who don’t.

In this study, a select group of people were not allowed to check their email. They stated that they felt more that they were more able to stay on task and complete their jobs. They had fewer time wasting and stressful interruptions as well. It took five days for participants to have more variable, natural heart rates after they were cut off from email.

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