Wednesday, April 21, 2010


There has been a lot of discussion at OOTJ and elsewhere about multitasking. Like many parents, I questioned my teenagers' ability to do homework while checking email, instant messaging, and watching television. I simply didn't understand how all tasks could be performed equally well. It turns out that there is a scientific basis for my concern. According to an article published recently in Science, the brain is configured to handle up to two tasks at a time, but no more. Click here for an abstract of the article; full text is available for a fee. The Science article was the subject of a piece that appeared on, a website that reports on scientific and technological advances for laypeople. The research showed that when confronted with two tasks, the medial prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain that is colored green in the illustration) divides--half of the region focuses on one task, and half focuses on the other task. If a third task is added to the mix, the brain seems to "forget" one of the three tasks and returns to a binary sitation it is equipped to handle. The brain is simply not designed to perform accurately more than two tasks at once.

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