Here’s one of those truisms that seems to pervade working life: People who tend to juggle multiple tasks simultaneously throughout the day—if you’re reading this on a smartphone while talking on the phone with your boss while studying a laptop screen full of data while driving down the highway, you just might fall into this category—think they’re the best multitaskers ever to walk the face the earth.
The problem is, research over the past few years has proven pretty conclusively that the more tasks people attempt to perform simultaneously, the worse they do at all of them. But recent research from David Strayer, a professor of psychology at the University of Utah, has found a very small subset of the population whose performance actually improves with the introduction of more tasks.
According to a lengthy article about his research in The New Yorker, Strayer believes that these “supertaskers” come by their skills genetically. “You are either born with the neural architecture that allows you to overcome the usual multitasking challenges, or you aren’t,” reads the piece. “Already, with their admittedly limited sample, Strayer and his team have found that supertaskers exhibit different patterns of neural activation when multitasking than most of us.”
As supertaskers tackle more tasks, their brains operate more efficiently. And for those without their unique disposition, there’s simply no hope: Practicing at multitasking won’t make you better at it. “The ninety-eight percent of us, we deceive ourselves. And we tend to overrate our ability to multitask,” Strayer told the magazine. Keep that in mind the next time you decide to edit a document while driving.
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