Focus on Four Things

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Human brains aren’t designed for extreme multitasking.

That is the conclusion reached by a research team lead by Dr. Edward Awh, a professor of psychology at the University of Oregon. The team found the average person can only focus on four things at once. Some people can do more, some less. The study found that despite claims to the contrary, young people can’t do more things at once than anyone else.

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The study also found the complexity of things people try to remember doesn’t matter. The subjects fared the same when asked something simple, like the colors of tiles; or something intricate, like the design of Chinese characters.

In real life this means you can most likely only focus on four things, regardless ofwhether they are things that don’t require much thought–like following the car in front of you–or complicated things, like reading a book.

The influx of new technologies and entertainment devices into the workplace encourages multitasking. But if you can’t crunch numbers on a spreadsheet, listen to an iPod, answer email or a text message and check your cell phone don’t blame yourself – evolution hasn’t caught up to the times.

One thought on “Focus on Four Things

  1. The research really has little to do with multitasking if you read the report. It deals more with how long objects can be held in short term memory. Th e brain cannot actually multi task. See studies by Rene Marois at Vanderbilt and David E Meyer at University of Michigan. Also see http://www.davecrenshaw.com

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