Our modern workplaces are often a hive of activity, whether it’s the hubbub of conversation across our open plan offices or the multitude of digital disruptions busting to interrupt our flow of thought. It seems that such an environment heavily advocates multitasking, despite there being numerous studies highlighting how bad that approach is for our productivity and effectiveness.
A recent one has looked under the bonnet, and has explored just what impact multitasking has on our brains. They found that when we’re multitasking across multiple devices at the same time, it results in lower gray-matter density in the part of our brain that is traditionally associated with both cognitive and emotional control.
“Media multitasking is becoming more prevalent in our lives today and there is increasing concern about its impacts on our cognition and social-emotional well-being. Our study was the first to reveal links between media multitasking and brain structure,” the researchers say.
The researchers scanned the brains of participants whilst also asking them to complete a questionnaire detailing their use of various media. The regular use of multitasking was linked with lower brain density in the anterior cingulate cortex.
This is the part of the brain that is believed to be involved in our cognitive and emotional control, and has been associated with behaviours such as empathy and decision making.
It’s not a good picture at all, especially as previous studies looking at multitasking have found it linked with things such as emotional problems and anxiety, as well of course as the well documented issues it gives us regarding focus and attention.
Whilst the researchers point out that the causes of this shift in our brains is unclear, the impact is still an important one.
“The exact mechanisms of these changes are still unclear. Although it is conceivable that individuals with small ACC are more susceptible to multitasking situations due to weaker ability in cognitive control or socio-emotional regulation, it is equally plausible that higher levels of exposure to multitasking situations leads to structural changes in the ACC.”
The impact multitasking appears to have on our control should be particularly worrying, as a recent study highlighted the important role control plays in our perseverance.