This week press reports discussed a study by Stanford researchers that documents inferior performance by multitaskers on a variety of measures. The study set out to identify the unique cognitive abilities investigators assumed multitaskers must possess so the results came as a big surprise. One of the researchers summarized the results: “Multitaskers were just lousy at everything.”
These findings are disquieting to those of us who deal with supreme multitaskers everyday – in the college classroom. By one estimate, 80 percent of teens today engage in multitasking, where they process information from more than one medium at a time as they attend to their cell phones, TVs, instant messages, and so on. One study observed 400 people for a day and found that 96 percent of them were multitasking about a third of the time they used media.
As we earnestly try to accommodate the younger generation’s need to check their Facebook pages, text message and seemingly everything else not related to the ongoing lecture do we do these kids a disservice? Last semester I took the draconian step of forbidding the use of laptops in my classroom. My students weren’t happy – but maybe they actually heard some of what I said.
Adapted from Michael R. Solomon, Consumer Behavior: Buying, Having and Being 9th ed, Prentice Hall, to be published January 2010.