Gold for Fools: Multitasking

July 31, 2012

When search wizards multitask, challenges to comprehension may arise; yet another study shows that we aren’t as good at multitasking as we think. Research News out of Ohio State University reveals, “Study Shows Why Some Types of Multitasking are More Dangerous than Others.” The study, performed by Zheng Wang at Ohio State and supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation, has safety implications for the designers of tech products.

The study reinforced others which have concluded that we just aren’t that good at doing multiple things at once. It seems we enjoy the feeling of control we get when, for example, we maintain a conversation with a colleague in a chat window while working on another project. Even though objective measures report that subjects in the study were less productive while multitasking, the subjects themselves reported feeling they had accomplished more. It is an illusion that is particularly dangerous on the road, because drivers think they can handle distractions just fine—until they don’t. Young people, especially, must be made aware of this vulnerability.

There is some news here that can be put to good use. The study shows that mixing a visual and an auditory task works better than mixing two visual ones. The write up notes:

“The findings show that technology companies need to be aware of how people respond to multitasking when they are designing products. For example, these results suggest GPS voice guidance should be preferred over image guidance because people are more effective when they combine visual with aural tasks compared to two visual tasks.

“‘We need to design media environments that emphasize processing efficiency and activity safety. We can take advantage of the fact that we do better when we can use visual and audio components rather than two visual components,’ Wang said.”

See the write up for specifics on the study’s methodology. It seems to us, though, that those search wizards can multitask, so the research does not apply to young wizards. Except when they’re driving.

Cynthia Murrell, July 31, 2012

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