Why you can (or can't) multitask well

brainCognitive scientists at Brown University have identified the specific regions in the brain that work together to allow us to choose options from working memory. An article in ScienceDaily provides an example of a busy working mom trying to wrap up a business phone call while fielding requests from two children: one wants a snack, the other can’t find his homework. From outside appearances, mom is simply multitasking, but internally, her brain is storing these requests in her working memory. When she hangs up the phone, she’ll pick one of those requests and act. Researchers at Brown have found that when mom selects from her working memory, she’s using similar brain circuitry to that involved in planning motion. In experiments with 22 volunteers, the researchers used magnetic resonance imaging to track brain activity during a working memory task. They also measured how quickly the subjects could choose from working memory, something the scientists called “output gating.” From the perspective of cognition, Christopher Chatham, lead author and postdoctoral scholar, said that input gating—choosing what goes into working memory—and output gating allow people to maintain a course of action while being flexible enough to account for context in planning what’s next. How quickly can your brain engage in input gating and output gating? In other words, how well are you multitasking today?]]>

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