Sunday, August 30, 2009

Multi-Taskers are Mediocre

Interesting research on multi-tasking that came out last week. There's a NYTimes version and a slightly better by Wired that includes info on how the study was conducted. Basically, multi-taskers may do a lot of stuff at the same time, but they do none of it particularly well.

From one of the authors:
"Multitaskers were just lousy at everything,” said Clifford I. Nass, a professor of communication at Stanford and one of the study’s investigators. “It was a complete and total shock to me.”
You can read the abstract here. It reports multitaskers were "more susceptible to interference" and they performed less well on memory tasks (this last part not from the abstract but rather the Wired version of the story).

So what?

We all multi-task. Especially when we're consuming the news.

So I'm thinking, if we multitask, do we remember less of the news? Seems an obvious yeah, but how do we test this? Controlled experiment is the easy answer. But what about a survey? We could ask people how often they watch or read the news while doing something else, and what that "something else" might be. Assuming they're honest, we'd find some interesting results in political knowledge.

Okay, what about people who multitask the news. That is, people who say they use lots of difference sources, like TV and newspapers and online and magazines. This is not traditional multitasking (doing many things at once), but kinda interesting nonetheless. We want people to rely on multiple news sources, but is that also a bad thing? This is easily tested in a survey scenario: just ask them about all the different ways they get news and then create an index that measures the variety of sources. Will more variety be associated with more, or less, political knowledge?

Dunno. If time allows, I'll do a quick-and-dirty analysis this week and report back.

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