A new study from the University of Utah entitled, “Who Multi-Tasks and Why? Multi-Tasking Ability, Perceived Multi-Tasking Ability, Impulsivity, and Sensation Seeking” discovered that the people who multitask the most are those who are least capable of doing so!
The study, which featured in PLOS ONE involved a series of tests and questionnaires carried out on more than 300 undergraduate students. The tests were designed to measure actual multitasking ability, perceived multitasking ability, cell phone use whilst driving and the use of electronic media. The study also looked at personality traits like sensation seeking and impulsivity to see if these were more prevalent in those who multitasked more often.
The study discovered that those who multitasked most effectively were the people who were less likely to engage in it frequently and that the more people multitasked (like talking on a cell whilst driving) the more they lacked the actual ability to multitask.
An exceedingly high number of participants in the study also believed themselves to be much better at multitasking than the tests proved them to be; approximately 70% of participants thought they were “above average” at multitasking.
Interestingly, the people who showed the best abilities to multitask said they tended not to do so, in order to provide their full attention to each task individually.
The results of the study also implied that people with personality traits that include impulsivity and sensation-seeking were those who frequently attempted multitasking. These findings suggest that they did not multitask because they had the capability to do so, but rather because “they are less able to block out distractions and focus on a singular task.” The study notes that those who have an impulsive nature have a tendency to be more “reward-orientated” and more inclined to take risks because of this.
David Sanbonmatsu, a senior author of the study said:
“One of the main reasons people multitask is because they think they are good at it… But our study suggests people rarely are as good at multitasking as they think they are.”
One of the study’s most unsettling discoveries was the fact that people who had a tendency to chat on their cells whilst driving, were those who happened to be the least able to multitask well.
The study states:
“Multitasking, including cell phone use while driving, correlated significantly with sensation-seeking, indicating some people multitask because it is more stimulating, interesting and challenging, and less boring – even if it may hurt their overall performance.”
Read the rest of the findings on PLOS ONE.