Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Multitasking Ability Can Be Improved Through Training

Date:
July 27, 2009
Source:
Vanderbilt University
Summary:
Training increases brain processing speed and improves our ability to multitask, new research indicates.

Renι Marois and Paul Dux.
Credit: Image courtesy of Vanderbilt University

Training increases brain processing speed and improves our ability to multitask, new research from Vanderbilt University published in the June 15 issue of Neuron indicates.

"We found that a key limitation to efficient multitasking is the speed with which our prefrontal cortex processes information, and that this speed can be drastically increased through training and practice,” Paul E. Dux, a former research fellow at Vanderbilt, and now a faculty member at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, and co-author of the study, said. “Specifically, we found that with training, the 'thinking' regions of our brain become very fast at doing each task, thereby quickly freeing them up to take on other tasks."

To understand what was occurring in the brain when multitasking efficiency improved, the researchers trained seven people daily for two weeks on two simple tasks — selecting an appropriate finger response to different images, and selecting an appropriate vocal response (syllables) to the presentation of different sounds. The tasks were done either separately or together (multitasking situation). Scans of the individuals’ brains were conducted three times over the two weeks using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while they were performing the tasks.

Before practice, the participants showed strong dual-task interference—slowing down of one or both tasks when they attempted to perform them together. As a result of practice and training, however, the individuals became very quick not only at doing each of the two tasks separately, but also at doing them together. In other words, they became very efficient multitaskers.

The fMRI data indicate that these gains were the result of information being processed more quickly and efficiently through the prefrontal cortex.

"Our results imply that the fundamental reason we are lousy multitaskers is because our brains process each task slowly, creating a bottleneck at the central stage of decision making," Renι Marois, associate professor of psychology at Vanderbilt University and co-author of the study, said. “Practice enables our brain to process each task more quickly through this bottleneck, speeding up performance overall.”

The researchers also found the subjects, while appearing to multitask simultaneously, were not actually doing so.

"Our findings also suggest that, even after extensive practice, our brain does not really do two tasks at once,” Dux said. “It is still processing one task at a time, but it does it so fast it gives us the illusion we are doing two tasks simultaneously."

The researchers noted that though their results showed increased efficiency in the posterior prefrontal cortex, this effect and multitasking itself are likely not supported solely by this brain area.

“It is conceivable, for example, that more anterior regions of prefrontal cortex become involved as tasks become more abstract and require greater levels of cognitive control,” Marois said.

Dux completed this study while conducting post-doctoral research at Vanderbilt. Michael Tombu, Stephenie Harrison and Frank Tong, all of the Department of Psychology at Vanderbilt, and Baxter Rodgers of the Vanderbilt University Institute of Imaging Science and Department of Radiology and Radiological Sciences also co-authored the study. Marois, Tombu, Harrison and Tong are members of the Vanderbilt Vision Research Center and the Vanderbilt Center for Integrative and Cognitive Neurosciences.

The research was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Vanderbilt University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Vanderbilt University. "Multitasking Ability Can Be Improved Through Training." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 July 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/07/090716113401.htm>.
Vanderbilt University. (2009, July 27). Multitasking Ability Can Be Improved Through Training. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/07/090716113401.htm
Vanderbilt University. "Multitasking Ability Can Be Improved Through Training." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/07/090716113401.htm (accessed August 23, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Lost Brain Cells To Blame For Sleep Problems Among Seniors

Lost Brain Cells To Blame For Sleep Problems Among Seniors

Newsy (Aug. 21, 2014) — According to a new study, elderly people might have trouble sleeping because of the loss of a certain group of neurons in the brain. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Do More Wedding Guests Make A Happier Marriage?

Do More Wedding Guests Make A Happier Marriage?

Newsy (Aug. 20, 2014) — A new study found couples who had at least 150 guests at their weddings were more likely to report being happy in their marriages. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Charter Schools Alter Post-Katrina Landscape

Charter Schools Alter Post-Katrina Landscape

AP (Aug. 20, 2014) — Nine years after Hurricane Katrina, charter schools are the new reality of public education in New Orleans. The state of Louisiana took over most of the city's public schools after the killer storm in 2005. (Aug. 20) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Researcher Testing on-Field Concussion Scanners

Researcher Testing on-Field Concussion Scanners

AP (Aug. 19, 2014) — Four Texas high school football programs are trying out an experimental system designed to diagnose concussions on the field. The technology is in response to growing concern over head trauma in America's most watched sport. (Aug. 19) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins