Envious of younger colleagues able to carry on a conversation while tapping out an email and listening to their iPod? Don't be. Scientists now think humans cannot really multitask. Your colleague is actually switching his or her attention between you, the computer screen and the iPod. And recent brain-scanning experiments suggest this rapid switching may come at a cost.
A study by the University of California found distracted individuals store information in a part of the brain that is different than that of more focused learners. The result is that they cannot recall it as easily.
"We're really built to focus," study author Russell Poldrack says. "And when we sort of force ourselves to multitask, we're driving ourselves to perhaps be less efficient in the long run - even though it sometimes feels like we're being more efficient."
Inefficiency may be only the beginning of multitaskers' problems. University of Michigan researchers believe multitaskers are flooding their bodies with stress hormones and adrenaline, risking their long-term health.
The solution? Single-tasking - once known simply as doing one thing at a time.