Is multi-tasking always worth the effort?

Filed under: Just For Moms, Health & Safety: Babies

As you are reading this, you may be burping you baby, telling another child to be quiet, or doing a multitude of things besides concentrating on what is written. Is this a good idea? Not according to a recent study from UCLA. Authors of the study concluded that multi-tasking affects the brain's learning systems, and as a result, we do not learn as well when we are distracted. Even if you learn while multi-tasking, that learning is less flexible and more specialized, so you cannot retrieve the information as easily. "The best thing you can do to improve your memory is to pay attention to the things you want to remember," the lead author, Russell Poldrack, added. "When distractions force you to pay less attention to what you are doing, you don't learn as well as if you had paid full attention."

The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine brain activity and function, a technique that uses magnetic fields to spot active brain areas by telltale increases in blood oxygen. Participants in the study, all in their 20s, learned a simple classification task by trial-and-error. They were asked to make predictions after receiving a set of cues concerning cards that displayed various shapes, and divided the cards into two categories. With one set of cards, they learned without any distractions. With a second set of cards, they performed a simultaneous task: listening to high and low beeps through headphones and keeping a mental count of the high-pitch beeps. While the distraction of the beeps did not reduce the accuracy of the predictions -- people could learn the task either way -- it did reduce the participants' subsequent knowledge about the task during a follow-up session.All of this may explain why when someone asks you about something that occurred yesterday, you can't remember. You tend to blame it on memory gaps or the very early onset of dementia. That apparently is not the case. You, like me, are simply trying to do too many things at once to remember events that occurred a short time ago.

Is is worth it to multi-task? Many of you will say you have no other choices with babies around. That is a compelling argument and certainly valid. However, is multi-tasking always worth the price you pay? Probably not, especially is there is something you need to learn and remember. Anyone have any suggestions about improving your memory while acquiring so much information through multi-tasking?

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.