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Multi-Tasking Competence Varies with Tasks, Often Over-estimated


Multi-Tasking Competence Varies with Tasks, Often Over-estimatedMost have heard the warnings that multi-tasking is inefficient, ineffective and may be dangerous, then go ahead and do it anyway.

A new study qualifies the general disclaimers that some types of multi-tasking are more dangerous than others.

For example, trying to do two visual tasks at once hurt performance in both tasks significantly more than combining a visual and an audio task, the research found.

Researchers also discovered that people who tried to do two visual tasks at the same time rated their performance as better than did those who combined a visual and an audio task — even though their actual performance was worse.

“Many people have this overconfidence in how well they can multitask, and our study shows that this particularly is the case when they combine two visual tasks,” said Zheng Wang, lead author of the study.

“People’s perception about how well they’re doing doesn’t match up with how they actually perform.”

The study appears in a recent issue of the journal Computers in Human Behavior.

Researchers used eye-tracking technology to show that people’s gaze moved around much more when they had two visual tasks compared to a visual and an audio task. Additionally, they spent much less time fixated on any one task.

That suggests distracted visual attention, Wang said.

In the study, participants who were performing two visual tasks were asked to complete a pattern-matching puzzle on a computer screen while giving walking directions to another person using instant messaging (IM) software.

Those who combined a visual and an audio task tried to complete the same pattern-matching task on the screen while giving voice directions using audio chat.

The two multitasking scenarios used in this study can be compared to those drivers may face, Wang said.

People who try to text while they are driving are combining two mostly visual tasks, she said. People who talk on a phone while driving are combining a visual and an audio task.

“They’re both dangerous, but as both our behavioral performance data and eyetracking data suggest, texting is more dangerous to do while driving than talking on a phone, which is not a surprise,” Wang said.

“But what is surprising is that our results also suggest that people may perceive that texting is not more dangerous – they may think they can do a good job at two visual tasks at one time.”

In the study 32 college students sat at computer screens and were asked to complete a matching task in which they saw two grids on the screen, each with nine cells containing random letters or numbers.

They had to determine, as quickly as possible, whether the two grids were a “match” or “mismatch” by clicking a button on the screen. They were told to complete as many trials as possible within two minutes.

After testing the participants on the matching task with no distractions, the researchers had the students repeat the matching task while giving walking directions to a fellow college student, “Jennifer,” who they were told needed to get to an important job interview.

Participants had to help “Jennifer” get to her interview within six minutes. In fact, “Jennifer” was a trained confederate experimenter. She has been trained to interact with participants in a realistic but scripted way to ensure the direction task was kept as similar as possible across all participants.

For this part of the task, half of the participants used instant messaging software (Google Chat) to type directions while the other half used voice chat (Google Talk with headphones and an attached microphone) to help “Jennifer” reach her destination.

Results showed that multitasking, of any kind, seriously hurt performance.

Researchers found that in the group that gave audio directions performance in visual pattern-matching dropped by 30 percent drop in visual pattern-matching performance.

Participants who used instant messaging did even worse — they had a 50 percent drop in pattern-matching performance.

Interestingly, although those who gave audio directions completed more steps in the directions task than did those who used IM, when asked to rate themselves, those that gave IM gave themselves higher ratings that those who used audio chat.

“They’re both dangerous, but as both our behavioral performance data and eyetracking data suggest, texting is more dangerous to do while driving than talking on a phone.”

“It may be that those using IM felt more in control because they could respond when they wanted without being hurried by a voice in their ears,” Wang said.

“Also, processing several streams of information in the visual channel may give people the illusion of efficiency. They may perceive visual tasks as relatively effortless, which may explain the tendency to combine tasks like driving and texting.”

Eye-tracking results from the study showed that people paid much less attention to the matching task when they were multitasking, Wang said. As expected, the results were worse for those who used IM than for those who used voice chat.

Overall, the percentage of eye fixations on the matching-task grids declined from 76 percent when that was the participants’ only task to 33 percent during multitasking.

Fixations on the grid task decreased by 53 percent for those using IM and a comparatively better 35 percent for those who used voice chat.

“When people are using IM, their visual attention is split much more than when they use voice chat,” she said.

These results suggest we need to teach media and multitasking literacy to young people before they start driving, Wang said.

“Our results suggest many people may believe they can effectively text and drive at the same time, and we need to make sure young people know that is not true.”

In addition, the findings show that technology companies need to be aware of how people respond to multitasking when they are designing products.

For example, these results suggest GPS voice guidance should be preferred over image guidance because people are more effective when they combine visual with aural tasks compared to two visual tasks.

“We need to design media environments that emphasize processing efficiency and activity safety. We can take advantage of the fact that we do better when we can use visual and audio components rather than two visual components,” Wang said.

Source: Ohio State University

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Can Schizophrenic Family Member Turn Against Others?


My mother is a schizophrenic. My mother is around 47 years old and she’s had schizophrenia since before she got married in her 20s I guess. My mother has turned against almost all of our relatives, we have no family friends and we barely go out. As they create scenarios in their mind and believe it’s true. I have a feeling my mother is gradually turning against us. Is this possible?

Also, I have a feeling that my brother (21) has also been genetically affected. Some people believe it might be some sort of demonic possession as the effects are on and off, but I think it might be schizophrenia. Can schizophrenia be passed on genetically?

A. Yes, unfortunately, it is possible for an individual with schizophrenia to “turn on their family.” I worked on a research study in which we were attempting to build a website for individuals with schizophrenia and their family members. We had to alter our recruiting process because we found that so few individuals with schizophrenia had retained positive connections with their family.

It is important to separate the individual from their illness. In other words, an individual with schizophrenia might “turn on their family” because of their symptoms, not because they don’t love their family. Individuals with schizophrenia are not thinking clearly. Schizophrenia is a thought disorder. Delusions, hallucinations and paranoia interrupt an individual’s logical thinking ability and tricks them into believing in a false reality. That is the cruel nature of the disease.

I worked with a client who believed that her husband was plotting to harm her. Every move he made was perceived as being part of his plot to harm her. At one point, she called the police and falsely reported that he was dealing drugs just so he would be arrested. She only did it because she wholeheartedly believed that he was attempting to harm her. He was not but in her illogical mind, he was. By having her husband arrested, she was attempting to protect herself.

In many ways, schizophrenia is a family disease because it affects the family to such a large degree. In the example above, it would’ve been understandable for the client’s husband to have been furious with her for having called the police but he realized that she did it because of her illness. No one wants to have or chooses to have schizophrenia. Schizophrenia afflicts people of any gender, race, or socioeconomic status.

With regard to schizophrenia being passed on genetically, it is possible. Having a family member with schizophrenia increases the likelihood that other family members will develop the disorder. It does not guarantee that members of the family will develop the disorder but the genetic risk is real, though slight.

Your brother is also showing signs of schizophrenia and “some people” believe that he is possessed by demons. Historically, individuals with schizophrenia were thought to have been possessed by demons. The current understanding of schizophrenia is that it is a brain disorder that is brought on or exacerbated by stress. If your brother is experiencing signs of schizophrenia, then he should be evaluated by a mental health professional immediately. Time is of the essence with regard to schizophrenia and psychosis. The sooner that he can begin treatment, the sooner his symptoms can be decreased or eliminated.

I would recommend contacting the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). NAMI is an advocacy group that provides support and psychoeducation about mental illnesses. Many NAMI members have family members with mental illnesses and can relate to your situation. I wish you the best of luck.

Kristina Randle

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