I found an exerpt from an interview of best-selling author and neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, PhD, by Medscape. He discusses our brain’s ability—or lack thereof—to process the dizzying flow of information brought on us by the digital age.
I haven’t read his latest book, The Organized Mind, but it sounds interesting.
Medscape: You write about the downsides of multitasking, something many busy clinicians are likely familiar with. What is happening biologically when we multitask, and why it is not usually the best way to get things done?
Dr Levitin: Neurologically, when we “multitask,” we are not actually doing several things at once. Instead, our brain is rapidly shifting from one thing to another, so we are actually sequentially unitasking. Unitasking is normally associated with good outcomes—you focus your attention on one thing for a sustained period of time, and you get quality creative work done. But if you are fractionating your attention into little five-second increments or one-second increments, moving from texting to your phone to email to your work, the effect is lowered productivity.
People who multitask think that they are doing a lot of things and being productive. And it’s true that they are busy. They are engaged, and their arousal levels are high, physiologically, but according to a number of studies, they are actually getting less done. They are not saving time. They are wasting time. Multitasking also produces the stress hormone cortisol, which dulls your senses and cognition.