Archive for the ‘Multitasking’ Category

Death On The Rails: Text Messaging, Poor Signals Played A Role

December 3, 2008

The train engineer was text messaging just seconds before a deadly crash.  Now it seems the traffic signals he saw could have been missed too….


Investigators find the station’s red signal was not as clear as the yellow and green ones, and continue probing whether the engineer and conductor followed communication rules.
By Rich Connell and Robert J. Lopez
The Los Angeles Times
A critical red light that a Metrolink train ran just before slamming into a freight train in Chatsworth was not as visible as green and yellow signals displayed by the same trackside warning device, investigators probing the disaster have found.

The clarity of the stop light, as well as possible violations of communication rules by the commuter train’s crew, have become key focus points in the federal inquiry into the deadliest rail accident in modern California history.

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Mobile phones may distract drivers more than anything else

December 1, 2008

Mobile phone calls distract drivers far more than even the chattiest passenger, causing drivers to follow too closely and miss exits, U.S. researchers reported on Monday.

Using a hands-free device does not make things better and the researchers believe they know why — passengers act as a second set of eyes, shutting up or sometimes even helping when they see the driver needs to make a maneuver.

A woman talks on her cell phone while driving in Burbank, California ...

The research, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, adds to a growing body of evidence that mobile phones can make driving dangerous.

Lee Strayer of the University of Utah and colleagues have found in a series of experiments using driving simulators that hands-free mobile phones are just as distracting as handheld models.

They have demonstrated that chatting on a cell phone can slow the reaction times of young adult drivers to levels seen among senior citizens, and shown that drivers using mobile telephones are as impaired as drivers who are legally drunk.

For the latest study, also using a simulator, Strayer‘s team showed that drivers using a hands-free device drifted out of their lanes and missed exits more frequently than drivers talking to a passenger. They tested 96 adults aged 18 to 49.

“The passenger adds a second set of eyes, and helps the driver navigate and reminds them where to go,” Strayer said in a statement.

“When you take a look at the data, it turns out that a driver conversing with a passenger is not as impaired a driver talking on a cell phone,” he added.

Multitasking In The Car: Just Like Drunken Driving

Read the rest from Reuters:

Adult Brains’ ‘Internal Chatter’ Limits Multitasking

October 30, 2008

It’s not every brain scientist who explains her research using Shakespeare. But University of Michigan psychology professor Cindy Lustig describes brain development over a lifetime as a correlation with Shakespeare’s “seven ages of man.”

From NPR

Using behavioral tests and brain scans, Lustig and her collaborators, Drs. Randy Buckner and Denise Head, study how age affects the brain’s ability to multitask. While the young child’s brain is only capable of focusing on one thing at a time, as the brain develops it is able to switch between tasks quite quickly, reaching a multitasking peak in the 20s or 30s, says Lustig. Beyond that, the brain experiences “internal chatter” and has to work a lot harder to suppress distractions and maintain focus.

Single-Track Minds

Early in life, Lustig says, we have a phenomenal ability to ignore everything except what’s right in front of us.

When children focus on a game or a puzzle, she says, they are not thinking about anything else. They are not thinking about their day or their grocery list. They focus solely on the one task, says Lustig, and don’t have any background noise.

Young children have trouble taking on more than one task at a time. Parents often exploit this weakness. When a toddler wants Big Brother’s favorite truck, they redirect him toward that cool race car in the corner.

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Multitasking In The Car: Just Like Drunken Driving

October 16, 2008

If you are driving while using the cell phone, your performance is that of a drunk….even if yoiu are using hands free….

By Jon Hamilton
National Public Radio

Drivers seem pretty comfortable chatting on their cell phones while navigating the streets. But brain researchers say it’s a terrible idea, even with a hands-free device.

“If you’re driving while cell-phoning, then your performance is going to be as poor as if you were legally drunk,” says David Meyer, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan.

A man juggles his cell phone and a doughnut while driving

Above: “If you’re driving while cell-phoning, then your performance is going to be as poor as if you were legally drunk,” says professor David Meyer.

“If you test people while they’re texting or talking on the phone, they will actually miss a lot of things that are in their visual periphery,” says Earl Miller, a neuroscientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Driving requires a surprising amount of brain power. Out on the road, we have to process huge amounts of visual information, predict the actions of other drivers and coordinate precise movements of our hands and feet.

Even when using a hands-free device, scientists have found that talking on the phone distracts us to the point where we devote less brain power to focusing on the road.

Drivers’ Brains On Cell Phones

Marcel Just, a neuroscientist at Carnegie Mellon University, says that’s why people learning to drive don’t do anything else.

“Novice drivers turn off the radio, they ask you not to talk to them. They need all the brain participation they can get for the driving,” Just says.

But the level of focus required changes with experience. Over time, the brain rewires itself to do the tasks involved in driving. So when our eyes see a red light, our foot hits the brake, with no conscious thought involved. Just says driving becomes automatic.

“You find yourself arriving at some destination and not remembering much about the trip. I sometimes find myself passing a car without remembering that I decided to pass. So I don’t know much about my own (automatic) driving,” Just says.

Scientists call this phenomenon “automaticity.” It lets us do one thing while focusing on something else. In other words, learning to do one task automatically helps us to multitask.

If the brain is so good at this, why not chat on the cell phone while driving? To answer that question, we could have tested the limits of an actual driver in actual traffic. That seemed like a bad idea. So we came up with a demonstration that’s a bit more refined.

Pushing The Brain — Concerts And Conversation

We brought a professional pianist into the studios here at NPR. A musician like Jacob Frasch has a lot in common with an experienced driver. Both can do a complex task that has become automatic while carrying on a simple conversation.

For over an hour, we tasked Frasch with playing a range of pieces, some he knew and some he had to sight-read. While he was playing, we asked him to multitask. Sometimes the additional work was simple. For instance, Frasch has no trouble talking about his childhood while playing a Bach minuet. But when the challenges took more brain power, it was tougher for Frasch to answer questions and play the piano at the same time.

Read the rest and hear the radio broadcast…..

Multitasking Makes you LESS Efficient, a Dangerous Driver: Experts Say

August 20, 2007

By Farnaz Javid and Ann Varney
ABC News
First published on the web: August 14, 2007

Whether it’s driving while talking on your cell phone, sending e-mails during a business meeting or listening to music while you’re working, it seems multitasking has become a way of life.

Employers, parents, even kids are trying to get more done in less time.

But, does multitasking really make you more efficient? And what happens to your brain when you’re trying to complete two important tasks at once?

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Our Related Essay from 2003!

We Could be Moving Too Fast

By John E. Carey
Fist Published in The Washington Times
August 8, 2003

A friend commented to me yesterday on the hectic nature and “rat race” of American life.  I was reminded of a piece I did for The Washington Times a few years ago.  It needed no dusting off.  We are still moving too fast.

For a long time I’ve suspected American society moved just too fast.  Recently a kindergarten teacher confirmed my suspicion. When I recounted happy memories about my own kindergarten experience, including “nap time,” the teacher told me: “There isn’t time for a nap anymore. We are getting these kids ready for life.”

Now I understand why my generation is such a failure. Too much nap time.

The telephone may also be an indicator we are rushing toward unhappiness and stress. Ever hear anyone say, “Gotta get the other phone. Sorry.  I’ll call you back”?

Another favorite conversation killer is, “We’re real busy here. Gotta go. Bye.” Not only are these communications rude and grammatically incorrect, they indicate a warp speed psychology in American life.

And cell phones, fortunately, are everywhere; allowing us to multiplex our minds and our lives. Cell phoning while driving. Cell phoning while eating. Talking on the cell phone at a wedding. I’ve even recently observed fast food restaurant guests talking to each other across the table on their cell phones. Do we really need to communicate this much? Are we discussing Plato or the meaning of life? Not usually. We are often scheduling more work, explaining why we are late, or just wasting time and space on the frequency band.

We drive way too fast. Even while going to work, people cut in and out of lanes at a breathtaking pace. Are they late or can’t they wait to get to work? One wonders. A recent survey reported the average American driver admits he takes dangerous risks behind the wheel to save precious time.

In suburbia the soccer Moms and Dads are notoriously overworked and on the run. The kids’ schedules drive everyday life and especially the weekends. Soccer, ballet, Girl Scouts, Little League, the amusement park, trips to the mall and other activities mean some families have more than one SUV to handle the workload of transporting preteens to everything and everywhere. Kids have even been known to suffer nervous breakdowns because they are so overscheduled.

My best suburban family of friends recently drove three hours to a one-hour wedding and then three hours back so they could get to the next scheduled event.

We are in such a hurry to pack more into life that TV sitcom writers have added many more pages of additional script for a single episode than ever before. Fortunately, the robotlike actors can speak faster than my VCR [we can now update this to a CD Player] on fast forward. This, of course, also means our kids (not robots, these) now utter every sentence as if the house were on fire and they were making the 911 call. And the speed-talking on TV allows more life-enhancing commercials.

So if we didn’t go this fast what would we miss? Or stated another way – why are we doing this and is it sane, normal and healthy? Does this life at the speed of sound give us better “quality of life?” More “family time?” More vacation? More money? Time to read a book? In most families, none of the above.

Usually we are just competing with other speed demons. Psychological pressure grows when we fear we can’t keep pace and can’t compete. Experts say the average white-collar worker fears for his job if he takes more than a week or two off at one stretch. This results in speedy weekend vacations with lots of driving and not much rest. Suburban parents often tell me little Judy or Tommy won’t get into the best middle school if he doesn’t pack more into “the early grades.” No nap time for you slackers.

Statistics do not confirm that all this rushing into, during and after school is building a generation of American geniuses. On the contrary, the school systems and cultural ways of life in several other nations are beating our pants off. And one of the best compensated team of teachers and school officials is right here in our nation’s capital. They also have some of the most embarrassing statistics on educating students. But this may not be due to trying to pack more quality education into the day.

Family life isn’t much improved either, surveys and statistics tell us. Families are more fractured, and a generation of single parents has exploded onto the scene and become an acceptable part of the norm.

Married people say they are “too busy” to have children.  They are too busy to stay married also because fewer than one-half of our marriage age population is married.  Most are divorced or living together.

And working quickly is not the same as efficiency. My favorite lawyer takes on too much work then tries to work faster, harder, later. Then he’ll make a silly mistake in an easy correspondence. He’ll make up for it the next time by writing a skilled, researched masterpiece. But trust me, there is another mistake out there soon.

Do we get more vacation time? Not compared to just about any European. The legally mandated vacation time in Sweden is 32 days per year. If you live in Denmark, France, Austria or Spain you get 30 days off by law. The Japanese get 25 vacation days annually. Even in China, the workers get a longer vacation than you: 21 days.

The Germans are the most widely traveled and well-compensated with vacation time of any people in the world. Most get 30 days off, but some get up to 48. And Paris shuts down and empties out for a month in the summer because everyone goes on vacation.

Well, Paris has more open stores and restaurants these days because lots of Americans are there for a few days in summer (maybe even a whopping week). The French keep Paris open on a limited basis during vacation season these days just to be rude to Americans and take their money.

Do we get longer vacations? The average Italian vacation is 42 days. How long was your last big one?