Multitasking may be one of the hot bywords of the New Millennium, but several studies show it can be hazardous to your health. In plain terms, the studies show people can only do so many things at one time before everything starts to slide downhill.
People who love to talk on their cell phones while driving should be aware, for instance, that the Federal Aviation Administration and University of Michigan researchers discovered that the time involved in switching back and forth between tasks while driving or flying may be critical to avoiding an accident. Virginia Tech researchers using “black box” data confirmed these findings, proving that distractions, including the use of hand-held portables, contributed to 80 percent of all crashes in their study.
UCLA research shows you don’t learn as well when dividing attention between learning new information and watching TV or listening to the radio, or talking on your cell phone, for that matter. Such diversions, they found, don’t allow you to be as flexible in the use of the new information as you would have been with full attention giving to the learning, whether that information is for passing a Bar exam or Real Estate exam, or learning to safely operate a new power saw or electric carving knife.
There is in addition hidden health harm caused by multitasking, even if you escape car and plane crashes, manage to operate your new saw or knife without losing fingers, and don’t burn the house down: the stress involved in multitasking takes a toll on your body by producing the stress hormone cortisol. Over a period of time — and if the level of stress is great enough — cortisol can set you up for obesity and inflammation, which in turn lead to numerous physical problems including neurological changes and heart conditions. Perhaps the new hot byword should be “minimize multitasking.”