Multitasking or Multi-distracting?

Lindsay Adams

With the ability of college students to constantly check Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, and Google, from their laptop or phone, sometimes even during class, some are starting to surfing the web while doing homework or listening to lectures. According to most analysis, such as web survey data, being on Facebook or texting while doing schoolwork is negatively associated with a high GPA.

Many students believe when they multitask they really are doing multiple things at one time. However that is not how the brain processes the material. In reality, “Your brain is shooting from the next thing to the next thing to the next thing,” UMKC Director of the Counseling Heath and Testing Center Marita Barkis said.

Web browsers have shown the recent trend to multitasking with Google Chrome, Mozilla, and Safari all making it easier to open multiple browser windows.

Multitasking is, “Trying to do multiple mental and physical activities at the same time or at very contained proximity of each other,” Barkis said.

The brain is switching from one task to another. Often the two tasks call for varied and different responses and recalibrating between the two may take some time.

“When people try to multitask it takes them a long time to get back into the mode of what they were doing,” Junior Hilary Smith, a Pre-medicine and Psychology major said, “It takes a couple of minutes…so interruption is really bad.”

Younger people report multitasking more hours than older people, according to research done by L. Mark Carrie, Nancy A. Cheever, Larry D. Rosen, and Jennifer Chang. Younger people are better at multitasking due to the fact that they have less degradation of the speed and accuracy of the tasks.

“I think that probably most students think they can multitask well, and up to a point they may be able to,” Barkis said.

Everyone, no matter how well they multitask, performs tasks better one at a time. And the tasks being performed will have better results if done separately.

“I don’t really think it’s possible for people to multitask,” Smith said.

College students who are self-admittedly chronic multitaskers are usually worse than other students at rapidly switching between tasks, which is necessary to multitask. To some this suggests that those who are more distractible choose to multitask, says Daniel T. Williams, a cognitive psychologist.

Even very simple jobs can be affected if they are done in conjunction with other responsibilities.

“The more complicated the mental task the more difficult it is to do well,” Barkis said.

The effect of multitasking on homework brings up different problems. “Multitasking is a complex issue,” Barkis said. The research varies depending on what the student is doing other than homework.

“A lot of people are texting and on Facebook while they are doing homework,” Smith said, “People will listen to music or have the television on while they are reading and if you can hear the words I don’t see how they can really absorb the words while they are reading. “

They can’t. Studies, such as “Background Television and Reading Performance”, show that when a student is has the television on while working on homework, the quality of the homework suffers.

Playing music while doing homework has had given different results in different studies. Some argue that only non-vocal is not distracting, others that there seemed to be little difference.

“If they are listening to music and then doing homework, for some students it may be helpful to the student to focus them, it depends on the student and how different or complex the homework is,” Barkis said, “If you are listening to a Brahms lullaby and doing math homework, you may block out other noises that may distract you. If you are trying to email, and talk on to your boyfriend of the phone, and do some homework and straighten some papers on your desk you probably aren’t doing a good job of any of them.”

There are many sides to this issue, and with its rapid rise among college students, research is ongoing. Much of the research thus far shows a negative effect on students.

With these in mind, Barkis posed the question, “Is it really multi-tasking or is it multi-distracting?”

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