Tuesday, April 26, 2011

New study shows multitasking negatively affects short term memory

When short term memory, sometimes known as "working memory," is impaired, learning can't happen since short term memory is the brain's gatekeeper for determining which experiences will make it to long term memory where they become available for "thinking" and future problem solving.  The study, reported here by the NYT's science blog, has some caveats attached. First, it didn't involve technology-based interruptions. Second, the subjects were older - 60 to 80 - rather than digital natives. But the conclusions, the researchers say, have implications for all of us who multitask with technology:

Even though the study did not revolve around interruptions from cellphones or other gadgets, one researcher said the results provide a “clear extrapolation” to the impact of a stream of incoming rings and buzzes.

“Technology provides so much more of an interference than what we did here,” said the researcher, Dr. Adam Gazzaley, a neurologist at the University of California at San Francisco. Indeed, the paper argues that studies like this are becoming increasingly important as aging adults spend more time in a work force with heavy multitasking demands.

“This issue is growing in scope and societal relevance as multitasking is being fed by a dramatic increase in the accessibility and variety of electronic media,” Dr. Gazzaley said.

Interestingly, the study also noted the time it took for the brain to disengage from the distraction. Younger brains disengaged more quickly compared to older brains. The researchers concluded that older brains have a harder time reengaging with the original task. "As your brain ages, it’s harder to get back to the task at hand after an interruption." Hence the phenomenon of the "senior moment."

You can read the full article here.



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