Friday, September 30, 2011

The Brain You Save


I’ve noticed this weird thing about my husband. (Husband, I have a husband!)

Yes, I just quoted Love’s Savage Whiplash. So sue me.

My  husband can only do one thing at a time. If he’s on the phone, he has to finish the phone call before he can answer the teeniest tiniest question about whether the spaghetti is done. When he’s working, he’s totally focused – no chitchat, no listening to the radio. If he’s watching a movie, I could dance naked in front of him and … well, that would probably work, but nothing short of that would get his attention.

Meanwhile, I often have several windows open on my computer. One’s my WIP, then there’s Twitter and Gmail and maybe a blog I’m working on. If someone calls I cruise my email while I’m talking to them. Often I’m making supper at the same time, or helping my 7 year old shroud herself in blue fabric so she looks like an Avatar. You know … juggling. 


If you’re a woman, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Women multitask more than men, in my experience. No doubt there are exceptions. (And of course, I could be wrong. There’s usually a strong possibility of that.)

In my secret heart of hearts, I always figured my ability to multitask made me superior somehow. I could accomplish more, right? I could handle everything anyone threw at me. Switch from one task to another in the blink of an eye.

Multitasking was my own personal superpower.

Until I started reading articles about how it can cause neurological damage. Yes – apparently it forces the body to release extra hormones and adrenaline, which causes actual chemical changes in your brain. Bad changes, like short term memory loss. The study was done by Dr. Russell Poldrack at the University of California. Here’s more about it. It also affects how you learn, because multitasking sends information to a different part of your brain that doesn’t retain it as well.

Not only that, but multitasking isn’t even effective! A Stanford University study showed that chronic multitaskers are less productive, more easily distracted and less able to focus. They have worse recall so they can't remember as much about the task they just did. And, believe it or not, they're actually worse at switching gears than the low multitaskers such as my husband. Which was the whole point of multitasking in the first place!

So I guess my superpower was just an illusion. All that time I was actually harming my brain chemistry. Oops! Now that I’ve been enlightened, I try to follow my husband’s example and just do one thing at a time. If I’m writing, I write. If I’m checking email, I check email. And so forth.  

Oh, I nearly forgot the worst part. Just thinking about multitasking apparently causes your IQ to drop 10 points – temporarily.

So sorry, everyone! Don’t worry, it’ll come back. And hopefully you’ll remember this post and save your brain. (It might be too late for mine.)

4 comments:

Meg Benjamin said...

My hubs can't read and eat at the same time, which is my way of life when I'm eating by myself. However, I've noticed that because I always read while I'm eating lunch, I find it very difficult not to do that, which means I'm the world's most boring lunch companion, I guess. But I'm absolutely on board with the idea that multitasking cuts down on your attention span, although the lowered IQ sounds a little weird!

Juniper Bell said...

I know, weird, right? I suppose I should have said, thinking about multitasking lowers your IQ. Here's the quote:

"...it turns out that even the mere thought of multitasking can lower your IQ ten full points, according to Professor Miller.

Though this mental change is temporary, it's hardly harmless."

So if I made you think about multitasking, I made your IQ drop 10 points. Temporarily. ;-)

Meg Benjamin said...

So I guess that accounts for my lousy productivity today. Gee, thanks Juniper!

Kelly Jamieson said...

Oh! THAT explains my short term memory problems! I thought it was AGE! I am the queen of multitasking. Why do one thing if you can do ten at the same time?? My family laughs at my computer when I have ten windows open at the same time. I'm efficient! I'm fast! I forget that something's cooking while I'm checking emails and burn dinner!