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Your Mind on Multitasking

by James F. McClister

Today’s agent doesn’t look busy unless they’re multitasking. Unfortunately, that frantic lifestyle may be hurting their brains.

A smartphone in one hand, tablet in the other, Bluetooth in the ear and a laptop in the car seat – the arsenal of the modern day power agent. Always mobile, that’s the mantra of today’s successful, the one’s saying that if you’re not doing your job on the go, you’re not doing it right. But a study from Stanford University, in which researchers tackled the lingering question of what constant multitasking has done and is doing to our capacity to comprehend, suggested that agents might what to think twice about putting too much on their mental plate.

The Stanford study bombarded participants, who were segregated as regular and non-regular multitaskers, with chunks of information delivered through a variety of electronic devices. Heavy multitaskers, who largely believe the practice helps their performance, were found to struggle the most when it came to paying attention, recalling information and switching from one job to the next.

Why Study It?

Stanford Professor Clifford Nass, one of the researchers behind the study, explains that because multitaskers are conditioned to flow from one device to the next, they’ve become “suckers for irrelevancy,” meaning, in a nutshell, “everything distracts them.”

The study spun out of a growing curiosity over multitaskers’ seemingly superb control over the information they intake and digest, making it appear as though they’re processing multiple strings of information simultaneously, which social scientists previously believed impossible. However, after review, it seems their initial instincts may have been right.

“We kept looking for what they’re better at, and we didn’t find it,” Eyal Ophir, the study’s lead author and research at the university’s Communication Between Humans and Interactive Media Lab, said.

What They Discovered

Found to be helpless at selective attention, Stanford researchers jumped to the assumption that regular multitaskers were improving their mind’s ability to store and organize information, but again they were proved wrong. A second test, in which participants were shown a series of letters, demonstrated that multitaskers were just as poor at remembering which letters made a repeat appearance.

“They couldn’t help thinking about the task they weren’t doing,” Ophir said. “The high multitaskers are always drawing from all the information in front of them. They can’t keep things separate in their minds.”

The results of the study leave much to be discovered in the way of causes. It’s still unclear whether the participating multitaskers were born with an inability to concentrate or are damaging their cognitive control by staying connected to so many information channels at once. Whatever the case, researchers were convinced that the brains of multitaskers are not working at their peak capacity, which could cause problems for real estate agents who live in an increasingly data heavy and mobile world.

“When they’re in situations where there are multiple sources of information coming from the external world or emerging out of memory, they’re not able to filter out what’s not relevant to their current goal,” Anthony Wagner, an associate professor, said. “The failure to filter means they’re slowed down by that irrelevant information.”

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