I’ve often pondered whether or not one person can excel at multitasking over another. Are women better at multitasking than men? Are younger people better multitaskers than their older counterparts?
Today’s world is filled with multitasking opportunities — hundreds of emails, instant messaging, app notifications, RSS feeds, and a plethora of social networks — inundate almost every aspect of daily life from work to home. This barrage of IT interruptions makes it increasingly difficult to focus on the task-at-hand.
Millennials, specifically the “Net Generation,” are known to use many technologies simultaneously, masterfully switching from one to the next. They claim that it’s easy and that they can do it much better than older generations. Previous research hasn’t proven this claim but a new study indicates millennials are, in fact, better at multitasking with technology.
Florida Atlantic University researchers in the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science are among the first to examine this phenomenon in college-age students. The study provides some of the first results on whether “Net Genners,” who have grown up with widespread access to technology, are developing greater digital literacy than generations before them, and if this means they have an ability to switch their attention more efficiently.
For the study, researchers simulated a typical working environment, complete with IT interruptions, to allow them to track the effects on participants’ inhibitory processes. The 177 mostly college-age study participants were divided into three groups: those who received IT interruptions; those who did not; and a control group. Researchers compared the three groups’ accuracy and response time on completing tasks, gauging their level of anxiety.
Results, published in the journal Applied Neuropsychology: Adult, indicate there is no need to “pardon these interruptions,” at least for this younger generation. Findings show that switching between technologies did not deplete or diminish performance in the group that had the IT interruptions compared to the control group or the group that did not receive IT interruptions.
Unexpectedly, however, researchers discovered diminished performance in the participants from the group that did not receive any IT interruptions.
“We were really surprised to find impaired performance in the group that did not receive any information technology interruptions. It appears that the Net Generation thrives on switching their attention and they can do it more efficiently because information technology is woven throughout their daily lives,” said Monica Rosselli, Ph.D., senior author, professor and assistant chair of psychology in FAU’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Science, and a member of the FAU Brain Institute (I-BRAIN), one of the University’s four research pillars.
Prior research in the general population found that it takes about 25 minutes to return to an original task following an IT interruption and 41 percent of these interruptions result in discontinuing the interrupted task altogether. Emails alone cause about 96 interruptions in an eight-hour day with an added one-and-a-half hours of recovery time per day.
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