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Multi-Tasking and Your Mental Health

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Does multi-tasking affect your health? It may seem like it is increasing productivity and saving you time and energy, and many women are proud of their multi-tasking abilities. However, ongoing research has confirmed that multi-tasking can have negative effects on levels of productivity and overall brain health in some cases.  

Multi-tasking Is Safe Only If Different Stimuli Are Used

Experts agree that multi-tasking is safer if the tasks involved do not use the same stimuli, such as reading a message from the laptop while listening to music. Our brain is not designed to deal with the same stimulus challenge at the exact same time.

That is why driving a vehicle and texting on a phone at the same time is considered extremely dangerous. You are using the same visual stimulus. They are both competing for the same limited focus. Although it appears you are multi-tasking, you can only be actively engaged with one or the other.



So instead of doing two things at once, you are actually rapidly switching from one to the other, and back again. If your attention is attracted to the phone for a second too long, the job of consciously controlling the vehicle ceases, and catastrophe can follow.

Another example is when you are attempting to listen to multiple conversations around you. It is impossible to listen to two people who are talking to you simultaneously, because your auditory stimulus becomes overwhelmed.

Multi-tasking Can Harm Your Memory Ability

If you find yourself multi-tasking, each task that your mind is engaged in will drain a part of your mental energy. As your mental energy drains, you become more absent-minded. This is because your mind begins to drift.

Even if you could complete the two tasks successfully, you will quite probably not recall how you completed the tasks. This is because our brain does not have the ability to fully focus on two or several tasks at the same time.

Each time you multi-task, your mind becomes a juggling act.  When you multitask, you are diluting your mind's investment towards each task.  

When Multi-taskers Think They Perform Better

A study headed by Zheng Wang of Ohio State University showed that people who were text messaging while being asked to focus on the images displayed on a computer monitor had decreased levels of performance.

What makes this finding even more troubling is that those subjects who were asked to multi-task using the same visual stimulus, believed they performed better, although the results showed the opposite.
 
Their ability to focus on images displayed on their computer monitor plummeted up to 50% even though they thought they were performing perfectly. The same study participants were asked to multi-task using different stimuli, such as visual and auditory, and were found to have reduced levels of performance as much as 30%.

Professor Wang stated that performance level perception when multi-tasking is not the same, as the results proved. Researchers have also found that media multi-tasking increases your risks of developing impaired cognitive control.

The most current research is confirming that multi-tasking means "performing multiple tasks sub-optimally". Unfortunately, in addition to productivity losses, there is a compounding, taxing burden placed on the mental and emotional faculties. This results in accumulated stress, which is already a very real problem for many, if not most, to some degree.

Although technology today makes it difficult for us to avoid multi-tasking, just make yourself more aware of when it is happening and try to remove the overload on your mind as much as possible.

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