Russell A. Poldrack is the director of the Imaging Research Center and professor of psychology and neurobiology at the University of Texas at Austin.
As a busy researcher who owns an iPhone, iPad, and several computers, I often find it very difficult to practice what I preach when it comes to the dangers of multitasking (though I absolutely never talk on the cellphone while driving).
Our research shows that multitasking can have an insidious effect on learning, making it less flexible.
I think that the first key to successfully unplugging is to gain some insight into the effects that multitasking and information overload have on our own minds. As nicely discussed in the book “The Invisible Gorilla” by Chris Chabris and Dan Simons, humans are often very poor at understanding how our own minds work, and multitasking is a perfect example: Everyone thinks that they are one of those 3 percent of “supertaskers,” even as the scientific data shows that multitasking takes a serious toll on our performance as well as on our emotional lives.
Our research has shown that multitasking can have an insidious effect on learning, changing the brain systems that are involved so that even if one can learn while multitasking, the nature of that learning is altered to be less flexible. This effect is of particular concern given the increasing use of devices by children during studying.