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Paul Nelson, KSL Newsradio For all those people who think they can juggle many different things at once, many psychologists say you cannot. They say the act of multitasking could just be slowing you down.
One of the most common forms of multitasking is also one of the most dangerous. University of Utah psychology professor David Strayer said, "Eighty-two percent of accidents involve some sort of driver distraction. The number one source of driver distraction these days is using a cell phone."
It's not just that drivers get distracted. Strayer says this type of distraction has an actual name. "We call this inattention blindness where people look, their eyes are looking out the windshield, but they don't see because their mind is engaged in the cell phone conversation and not in processing what's right in front of them," Strayer told KSL Newsradio.
Strayer also says it's the multitasking that slows down reaction time, and it happens inside the car, as well as out. "It's the mental or cognitive distraction that's the problem; it's not holding the phone," Strayer said.
There are some ways to train your brain to do more than one thing at a time. Take, for example, a musician. It's not uncommon to see someone playing a guitar or piano and singing at the same time. This is different from the type of multitasking people do in their everyday lives. University of Utah assistant professor of psychology Frank Drews said, "These are tasks where we're dealing with information that is predictable. I mean you actually know what will come next."
But, there are some things you just can't memorize, like a conversation and the driving patterns of people around you. Drews says trying to get someone to remember information while driving is hard to do. "What you find is, if you give someone a list while they're driving, usually they actually remember 50 percent of what people remember when they're not driving," Drews said.
Drews says attention is a limited resource, and the brain really only has so much of it to go around. Other researchers say once someone gets off track, it takes much longer to get back on than most people would imagine. "Once you've distributed it and paid attention to someone asking questions, then you will not be able to process other types of information in your environment," Drews said.
Drews says when people try to multitask, one of two things suffers. Either our performance time increases or our quality of work decreases. He says these get worse with the more items you try to tackle at once.