Recently a study looked at students who had Facebook on (even in the background) while studying vs. those without Facebook use, and compared their grades. Facebook users came out with 20% lower grades.
As stated on MSNBC:
The psychologist said the study wasn’t about whether Facebook’s good or bad, but goes more to the stereotype that younger people are fluid multi-taskers â€”sending text message, listening to music, reading a book, all at the same time, for example â€” without any problems. …Â “Our study, and other previous work, suggests that while people may think constant task-switching allows them to get more done in less time, the reality is it extends the amount of time needed to carry out tasks and leads to more mistakes.
I don’t know about you, but I think this is shocking. Just shocking.
It’s shocking that this study has to be done. Again. It’s been done for years, and proven for years. Decades, even. When people get distracted, their performance decreases. As the psychologist said, this really has nothing to do with Facebook. In the big picture, this is just another example of distraction. Facebook, Twitter, cell phone, talking with a friend, listening to the TV in the background, thinking about why you aren’t outside playing with your friends, wondering how long you have until the next meal… ANYTHING that distracts you from the task at hand decreases your speed and accuracy at that task. Facebook is just an extremely popular example right now.
There is a wealth of research on the correlation between distraction and performance (including the very important sub-area of safety). I’m not aware of any study that says performance was increased – or even level – on any task when the performer was distracted by something else. And in most cases, the person being distracted felt subjectively that there was no decrease in their performance. In other words, they didn’t realize they were doing worse than when focused. I’ve even heard of people saying they perform better on tasks while multi-tasking (which is really a form of distraction, it’s just more intentional than others). That has been proven wrong time and again.
The focus of these studies lately (at least the ones I’ve seen reported) has been in the areas ofÂ cell phone use, particularly when driving, andÂ social networking. Years ago, before the internet, I’d seen these studies applied to the ultimate multi-taskers, mothers. When I’d bring it up around women, I’d usually get pretty impassioned responses – sometimes downright vitriolic. I never understood that (though I thought it pretty amusing, to be honest). It’s simply fact. Multi-tasking decreases performance. There’s no arguing it, it just is. That’s the way the brain works – one task at a time.
Sure, there are times when you have to multi-task. No doubt about that. Recognize, though, that your performance is degraded by it, even if you don’t think it is. It’s universal. It applies to you and it applies to your kids.
So what do you do about it? What do you do with this information?
Take advantage of it! We live in an overstimulated world. Turn some things off. The TV does not have to be on 24/7, or the radio for that matter. If you (or your child) is studying, get rid of as many distractions as possible. Shut down the computer, if possible, or at least Facebook, Twitter, Google Reader, Chat, Instant Message, cell phone, Pandora, TV, MP3 player, and other electronic distractions. Go all out and remove the Etch-a-sketch and crossword puzzles from the immediate vicinity, too. Focus.
Kids aren’t going to do this on their own, by the way. They, like many of you, think it doesn’t affect them. They, and you if you agree, are wrong. As parents, it’s your job to teach them (and model) how to do your best job. If you’re cooking, stop watching TV and talking on the phone. If you’re driving, DRIVE. Get your head in the game.
If anyone calls me while driving and I realize it, I will yell at you. I’ve hung up on people who do that. (Don’t even talk to me about texting while driving. Bodily injury may result, even if you safely arrive at your destination.)
All that other stuff will still be around when you finish whatever task you’re doing. The MP3 player isn’t going to dissolve while you’re studying. Facebook isn’t suddenly going to delete itself while you’re having a conversation with your kids. That person on the other end of the phone will probably still be alive when you get to your destination. You can call them back. If it’s really important, you can pull over.
What about you? Do you think that you can sustain the same level of performance while multi-tasking as opposed to focusing singularly on your task? Does this kind of research really matter? Do you (or will you) let your kids study with the radio blaring while the TV’s on and they’re on the cell phone while IMing with their friends? How often do Â you multi-task? Is it possible to cut back on that a bit? How much more could you get done if you focused on one task at a time? And the toughest question for most… are you willing to shut the phone off while driving?