Multitasking Overloads the Brain

Your brain works best when it can focus on just one task at a time, says a new study, which found that multitasking could reduce productivity by as much as 40 percent.

By measuring the brain reactions of people watching movies, researchers at Finland’s Aalto University found that performing several tasks at the same time interferes with brain activity.

“We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure different brain areas of our research subjects while they watched short segments of the Star Wars, Indiana Jones and James Bond movies,” explained Aalto University’s neuroscientist Iiro Jääskeläinen.

Cutting the films into segments of approximately 50 seconds fragmented their continuity. In the study, the subjects’ brain areas functioned more smoothly when they watched the films in segments of 6.5 minutes.

The posterior temporal and dorsomedial prefrontal cortices, the cerebellum and dorsal precuneus are the most important areas of the brain in terms of combining individual events into coherent sequences. These areas of the brain make it possible to turn fragments into complete entities.

According to the study, these brain regions work more efficiently when dealing with one task at a time.

Jääskeläinen recommends completing one task each day rather than working on a dozen different tasks simultaneously.

“It’s easy to fall into the trap of multitasking,” he said. “In that case, it seems like there is little real progress and this leads to a feeling of inadequacy. Concentration decreases, which causes stress. Prolonged stress hinders thinking and memory.”

He also sees social media as a challenge. “Social media is really nothing but multitasking, with several parallel plots and issues,” Jääskeläinen said. “You might end up reading the news or playing a game recommended by a friend. From the brain’s perspective, social media only increases the load.”

Jääskeläinen’s study isn’t the first to find that social media can have a negative effect on the brain. The more young adults log onto Facebook and other social media, the more likely they are to be depressed, according to a study from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

The study, which was published in the journal Depression and Anxiety, was the first large study of social media and depression.

Americans ages 19 through 32 who used social media the most (Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, Tumblr, Pinterest, Vine and LinkedIn)  throughout the week had a 2.7-times increased risk of depression.