An article by Perri Klass, M.D. in The New York Times yesterday on attention disorder myths caught my attention. Dr. Klass disagrees with popular idea that attention, or lack of it, is a "metaphor for something larger in society--for the multitasking, the electronic distractions, the sense that the nature of concentration may be changing, that people feel nibbled at, overscheduled, distracted, irritable." He quotes various experts that agree with him that ADHD is a genetic, brain-based disorder. While it is clear much is still not known about this disorder, Klass states, "The circumstances of modern life can give rise to the false belief that a culture full of electronics and multitasking imperatives creates the disorder."
Much has been written on this subject lately, so where do you come down on attention deficit disorders, are they genetic and what role does multitasking and overuse of electronics play on the brain?
A discussion isn’t a discussion without taking a stance. So in the spirit of discussion I'm going to weigh in towards the side of genetics. We are born with predetermined traits and placing ourselves in an environment which promotes of constant state of distractedness will play a strong role in how those traits exhibit. I am fortunate to not be diagnosed with ADHD but I can tell you that I my blood pressure and ability to focus are drastically different when I am walking on the beach versus when I am at a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese.
Nicholas Carr makes some interesting points in his recent research, "Is Google Making Us Stupid" (see video below). I'd be interested in any thoughts in light of his research as well.
Thanks for this post. There has been quite a bit of research on multitasking and its effects on performance. My colleagues and I are currently working on a paper about virtual distance, metacognition and the impact on group learning. One of the issues that comes into play is collaborative memory - the ability of a group to remember, and therefore learn, from collaboration. One of the issues that plays a significant role is distractions and multitasking. So, more distraction and multitasking results in lower collaborative memory. Virtual Distance, that includes multitasking, we have just found to be significantly related to group learning. However, what is unique about our findings, a result one rarely reads about outside of Virtual Distance research, is the following:
When Virtual Distance is relatively low on all other factors, a little multitasking is good for the group and its outcomes. As the number of projects one works on increases, if Virtual Distance is low on all other factors, higher innovation and higher learning occurs.
So when it comes to the multitasking issue, there is a lot more to it than just the stereotypical issue related to trying to juggle too many cognitive tasks at one time. A good rule of thumb: Keep your mind stimulated by being involved in multiple projects but when it comes time to get a deliverable out the door - focus and eliminate cognitive "switching" which has been shown to reduce productivity under any circumstance.