Stanford study found multitasking hinders performance, but UNF opinions differ


As Ashley Miller, public relations senior at UNF, sits at her laptop writing a paper for her public relations writing class, she’s also on the Internet checking her e-mail and chatting on Facebook. And to stimulate the mood for learning, her iPod plays the soothing tunes of India Arie in the background.

As a senior, Miller said she feels her schedule is busier than ever. Her classes require more time now that she’s in her major, and her extracurricular activities want their share of her time too. Therefore, Miller said she frequently multitasks to ensure everything that needs to be done, gets done.

While Miller may think multitasking is a good strategy to get more tasks accomplished, a 2009 Stanford University study on multitasking found it’s not.

Stanford’s Communication Between Humans and Interactive Media Lab put about 100 students into groups of those who regularly media multitask and those who don’t.

Researchers conducted a series of tests and discovered media multitaskers pay a big mental price, according to the study.

One test showed the groups a frame with a set of red rectangles alone and a set surrounded by several blue rectangles. Examiners flashed each design twice, and the students had to determine whether the examiner moved the two red rectangles in the second frame to a different location than in the first frame.

According to the study, the examiners told the students to ignore the blue rectangles, and the low multitaskers had no problem doing so. But the irrelevant blue images distracted those who regularly multitask.

Researchers from the study have concluded that people who are frequently bombarded with several streams of electronic information do not pay attention, cannot control their memory or easily switch from one task to another as well as those who complete one task at a time.

“I would never be able to take classes, work or participate in extracurricular activities if I didn’t know how to multitask,” Miller said. “It allows me to get more things accomplished and at a faster pace instead of doing things one task at a time.”

Despite Stanford’s research findings, Miller said she does not have the will to stop multitasking.

“Multitasking may be a foe to some, but it is a friend and lifesaver to me,” Miller said.

UNF’s Dr. John Oliver, an adjunct professor in the psychology department, said he agrees with Stanford’s research results. He said multitaskers are likely to forget the main focus of the task at hand. Therefore, they never fully engage in the activity they try to complete, according to the study.

“When you complete tasks individually, there is less stress and you’re more relaxed,” Oliver said. “And you may actually enjoy what you’re doing.”

Other students, despite these findings, rely on multitasking to get through the day.

“I get really bored if I concentrate on one thing for a long period of time,” Tia Byrd, a UNF advertising senior, said. “I don’t think my concentration level fails whenever I multitask.”

Byrd said multitasking heightens her attention because she becomes aware of all the things she does at that moment.

“We’re not computers. We can’t go back and forth,” Oliver said. “It only sets you up for more error.”

Joni Turner, psychology senior at UNF, said she agrees with Stanford’s research conclusion as well.

“I cannot multitask,” Turner said. “I have a one-track mind when I’m doing the simplest things. For example, I have to finish texting someone before I can even have or hear a

conversation with someone else.”

Crystal Timmons, a clinical instructor in the Office of Educational Field Experiences within UNF’s College of Education and Human Services, instructs aspiring teachers.

Timmons said teachers would not be able to work effectively unless they multitask. Teachers may be in the classroom at their desk grading papers, but they also watch their students, answering questions and maintaining their classroom setting.

“Being a full-time instructor, wife, mother and active participant in the community and my church ministry, there is no way I’d be able to get things accomplished one at a time,” Timmons said.

But still other professionals don’t recommend multitasking.

UNF Housing Welcome Desk Attendant Selena Neal said she tries to avoid multitasking at all costs.

“I would rather do things one at a time and know I’m doing it right,” Neal said. “If your attention is divided between several tasks, then you may inadvertently make a mistake.”

Students happy with their busy, multitasking lifestyle probably won’t change their ways, but unhappy media multitaskers might do well to follow Oliver’s advice, he said.

“Do few things but do them well. You’ll have a more peaceful life,” Oliver said.