With the constant barrage of sensory input, people have to be expert multitaskers to navigate the modern world. Marketers are always seeking innovative ways to reach a distracted audience.
But research actually tells us that our brains aren’t as skilled at completing tasks simultaneously as we’d like to think. Instead, people are getting better at quickly switching between tasks, and even that leaves plenty of room for improvement.
Truth be told, the human brain can only focus attention on one item at a time. Sure, we can breathe and see and smell at the same time. But when it comes to the prefrontal cortex, the thinking parts of our brains, we can only switch back and forth.
And according to Stanford University psychology professor Clifford Nass, our nonstop attempts at “multitasking” actually waste more time than they save.
“The research is almost unanimous, which is very rare in social science, and it says that people who chronically multitask show an enormous range of deficits,” Nass told NPR. “They’re basically terrible at all sorts of cognitive tasks, including multitasking.”