One of his most publicized research projects was a 2009 study on multitasking. He and his colleagues presumed that people who frequently juggle computer, phone or television screens, or just different applications, would display some special skill at ignoring irrelevant information, or efficiently switching between tasks, or that they would prove to have a particularly orderly memory.
“We all bet high multitaskers were going to be stars at something,” he said in an interview with the PBS program “Frontline” after the paper he and his colleagues wrote, “Cognitive Control in Media Multitaskers,” was published in 2009.
“We were absolutely shocked,” he said. “We all lost our bets. It turns out multitaskers are terrible at every aspect of multitasking. They’re terrible at ignoring irrelevant information; they’re terrible at keeping information in their head nicely and neatly organized; and they’re terrible at switching from one task to another.”
He added, “One would think that if people were bad at multitasking, they would stop. However, when we talk with the multitaskers, they seem to think they’re great at it and seem totally unfazed and totally able to do more and more and more.”
With children doing more multitasking and people asked to do more of it at work, he said, “We worry that it may be creating people who are unable to think well and clearly.”