Multitasking: Be Prepared; Perform Better

Multitasking: Be Prepared; Perform Better

multitasking_bereadyA recent New York Times article, by Bob Sullivan and Hugh Thompson, addressed the issue of multitasking. Specifically, the article discussed whether the act of multitasking has an effect on our cognitive functioning. Instead of managing multiple tasks at once, we are actually switching quickly from one context to the other, or performing “rapid toggling between tasks.”  It seems that interruptions are the culprit when it comes to the quality of work that is produced when one is “multitasking,” but what actually happens to our work quality when we are engaged in multiple activities?  In order to answer such questions, The New York Times asked Alessandro Acquisti, a professor of information technology, and Eyal Peer, a psychologist at Carnegie Mellon, to design an experiment.  They looked at how individual cognitive functioning is effected by interruptions.

The researchers examined three groups, all of whom performed a standard cognitive skills test. Two of the groups were informed that they might be interrupted and given further instructions, while the third group completed the task with no anticipated interruptions. The two “interruption” groups were each interrupted twice; the third group was not. On a second test, the same group again went uninterrupted. Of the other two groups, one group was again interrupted; the second group was not, but was rather told to anticipate interruptions during the test.  The researchers found that distraction, or even the anticipation of a distraction, led to poorer performance. The two interrupted groups provided incorrect answers at a rate 20% greater than the uninterrupted group.

The test was given to each group again. Part of the group was told they would be interrupted, but they were not. Those who were interrupted, however, did better, answering incorrectly at an improved rate of 14% of the time. Those who were warned of an interruption, but were not in fact interrupted, improved by 43%. What does this enormous change mean? Dr. Peer suggested that this group was able to prepare and learn from experience, as their brains adapted to the potential of interruptions. The authors concluded that the results suggest that “it is possible to train yourself for distractions, even if you don’t know when they’ll hit.”

Full article here

Advertisements

Active Use of Relaxation May Have Health Benefits

Active Use of Relaxation May Have Health Benefits

yogaA recently published study provided new and encouraging information about the health benefits gained by those who actively employ the “relaxation response.”  The relaxation response is a physiological state of rest and calm that directly opposes the state of stress and “fight or flight,” and is often elicited through techniques such as yoga and meditation. The study by Manoj Bhasin and Herbert Benson, of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and their colleagues, identified benefits to certain, specific aspects of health that had not been previously known.

The study examined a novice group of individuals who were taught to induce the relaxation response during an 8-week training session, through the use of particular techniques including yoga and meditation. Blood samples were taken prior to the training course, immediately before and after participants listened to a 20-minute CD program on health education.  After completing the course, participants came into the laboratory and practiced the relaxation response. Just before and after these sessions, blood samples for gene expression were taken from each subject. Fractional exhaled nitric oxide samples were also collected. This group was compared to another who had been practicing such techniques prior to entering the study.

The researchers found that practicing the relaxation response led to changes in the gene expression associated with insulin secretion, inflammatory response, energy metabolism, and mitochondrial function. A systems biology analysis revealed an upregulation of pathways involved in energy metabolism, and a suppression of pathways involved inflammation, stress, and cancer in those who practiced the relaxation response. Importantly, there was an immediate change in gene expression upon use of the relaxation response, which may provide insight into its short and long term health effects. While both groups displayed these changes, the long term practitioners showed stronger effects.

Read more about this study here