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Are ambidextrous people better at multitasking?

Are ambidextrous people better at multitasking?


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I'm strongly 'one-handed' in that I can barely even write with my left hand. My wife is fairly ambidextrous, in that she's by default left-handed, but can also write with her right hand.

I've noticed that she's capable of driving in the dark with full, stressful concentration and still be able to talk. Whereas I'd have trouble driving in the dark and holding a conversation at the same time.

I've heard that this is because one handed people have developed a side of the brain more strongly than the other, whereas ambidextrous people have developed both. Anything that implies that ambidexterity is a disadvantage for multitasking would also be helpful.


I can find no scientific evidence that supports the claim that ambidextrous people are better at multitasking.

  1. Less than 1% of the population are truly ambidextrous.
    [David Carey Bangor University]
  2. Your question cites two personal examples and offers no research on the matter. There could be numerous reasons a person is can conduct a conversation, whilst driving under stressful conditions, whilst another cannot. Factors such as driving and verbal skills could be factors.
  3. Issues regarding sex differences in multitasking are addressed well in this answer.
  4. The Corpus Callosum being the connection between the left and right hemispheres. The most general consensus is that the Corpus Callosum is enlarged in left handed and ambidextrous people [ref 1]. An enlarged Corpus Callosum, is not, necessarily, a good thing.
  5. Addressing the relationship between handedness and ability to multitask are addressed in the following study.

    Individual variation in hemispheric asymmetry: Multitask study of effects related to handedness and sex.
    Hellige, Joseph B.; Bloch, Michael I.; Cowin, Elizabeth L.; Lee Eng, Tami; Eviatar, Zohar; Sergent, Vicki
    Journal of Experimental Psychology:
    General, Vol 123(3), Sep 1994, 235-256.

    The study tests;

    (1) auditory processing of verbal material,
    (2) processing of emotions shown on faces,
    (3) processing of visual categorical and coordinate spatial relations,
    (4) visual processing of verbal material.

    This study concludes that the are some differences with processing

    phonetic or language-related processes.

  6. As a point of interest: It would appear that training that training to be ambidextrous does not improve brain function.

    Can Training to Become Ambidextrous Improve Brain Function? Michael Corballis, professor of cognitive neuroscience and psychology the University of Auckland in New Zealand

[ref 1] HANDEDNESS AND MOTOR PERFORMANCE IN PRESCHOOL CHILDREN
Vlachos Filippos* , Daloukas George, & Karapetsas Argiris
*University of Thessaly, Dept. a/Special Education , Volos, Hellas


This might not answer the question well enough to count as a good answer, but if you're interested in handedness in general, I highly recommend Stanley Coren's well-written and well-researched "The Left-Hander Syndrome."

If I recall correctly, the book doesn't address multitasking specifically, but it does address many issues associated with handedness, including lateralization of language and identity, development of mood disorders, and behavioral differences (especially risk of injury) between left- and right-handers. You might get some good pointers by reading the references.


If You Think You're Good At Multitasking, You Probably Aren't

Everybody complains that people shouldn't talk on cellphones while driving. And yet it seems pretty much everybody does it.

That may be because so many of us think we're multitasking ninjas, while the rest of the people nattering away while driving are idiots.

But scientists say that the better people think they are at multitasking, the worse they really are at juggling.

Researchers at the University of Utah wanted to find out which personalities were more likely to try to do two tasks at once. They're keenly interested in people who talk on the phone or text while driving, since there's plenty of data that even using a hands-free phone boosts the risks of accidents.

That bit isn't exactly breaking news.

For quite a few years, researchers have been making the case that people who drive while using phones drive as badly as people who are legally drunk. But we persist in thinking we can handle it.

People don't multitask because they're good at it. They do it because they are more distracted.

How come? The Utah folks speculated that multitaskers would be more apt to test high for traits like risk-taking, sensation-seeking and impulsivity. Turns out the researchers were right.

They asked student volunteers whether they used cellphones while driving, and whether they were good at multitasking. Then they tested the students' multitasking ability by asking them to solve math problems while remembering random strings of letters.

They found that the people who multitasked the most in real life — the impulsive risk-takers — were actually much worse at juggling tasks than people who rarely drove while phoning.

Even worse, these demon multitaskers thought they were terrific at it, though the cold, hard data proved they weren't.

Your Health

Multitasking In The Car: Just Like Drunken Driving

"People don't multitask because they're good at it," says David Sanbonmatsu, a professor of psychology at the University of Utah and lead author of the study, which was published online in the journal PLOS One. "They do it because they are more distracted. They have trouble inhibiting the impulse to do another activity."

Research News

Think You're Multitasking? Think Again

Seventy percent of the study participants, all college undergraduates, said they thought they were better than average at multitasking. Of course, that's statistically impossible — a drivers' ed version of Lake Wobegon, with all multitasking drivers above average.

Texting drivers aren't the only ones who think they're aces at jobs they're actually flubbing. There's plenty of other research showing that people tend to overestimate personal attributes like attractiveness and talent. That proved true in this study, too. It was the non-risk-taking non-texters who actually turned out to be better at multitasking. They could maintain focus and get the job done.

"People sometimes think multitasking means greater productivity," Sanbonmatsu told Shots. "That's not what the findings in the literature say at all. A lot of times people multitask because they can't focus on the task that's most important to them."

Sanbonmatsu and his colleagues are now going to look into why we keep driving while texting, even though we know it's dangerous. Maybe it's because we think that, unlike the other mopes on the highway, we're just darned good at it.


When you reach for a glass of water which hand do you use? When you take a test, which hand do you use to bubble in your answers? Is it the same hand? Is it the opposite one? Do you ever give it a second thought? Though which hand you use for everyday tasks may seem simple in nature, there is a vast amount of science being done behind the scenes to see what it all means, and what it could mean for the future.

To start, the American Psychological Association says that approximately 90 percent of the human population is right handed. Only about 1 percent of the human population is born ambidextrous. That also means that the other 9 percent are either left hand dominant or are mixed handed. Mixed handed refers to the idea that one hand is dominant for some tasks while the other hand is dominant for others. This is different from ambidexterity which is the ability to use either hand just as efficiently on any task. Unfortunately, there is currently no consensus in the scientific community on what handedness means, or how many classifications there should be for it. Indiana University recognizes this lack of standards throughout the scientific community. They go on to state that there is a clear difference between ambidextrous, and mixed handedness. So potentially, one can be right handed, left handed, cross dominant (mixed handed), or truly ambidextrous.

In an attempt to clear up some of the confusion, the Department of Psychiatry and Neurology at Tulane University performed a study that measured combinations of hand preference and hand performance to try to better classify groups of handedness. They studied 64 participants and found that more than 90 percent of the time, the hand you performed better with was the same hand you preferred or were more comfortable with. This study basically shows that handedness is not a clear-cut answer and that there is a spectrum of cross dominance between the two hands. This can be due to predetermined parts of the brain (nature), and which hand the person is forced to use at an early age (nurture).

On that note, one’s dominant hand is not determined from strictly nature or nurture but more of a combination of the two. Dana Smith, who has a Ph.D is psychology, reports that there are many genes known to be associated with handedness. So, when a child is born, they have a clear preference. Smith then goes on to say that this preference can try to be switched early on in a child’s life while he or she is still making neurological connections and pathways in the brain. When this happens, they become mixed handed and show signs of both the nature and nurture aspects of handedness.

So right about now you may be asking yourself, “Why does this matter?” It turns out there are many health and psychological problems that stem from handedness. Well, maybe not handedness, but more importantly brain lateralization. Brain lateralization is the idea that the brain has two hemispheres that compartmentalize and perform certain cognitive functions. For example, the left side of the brain is known to handle the use and understanding of language and speech. Though there seems to be correlation, the science is still not conclusive that right-handed people are left-brain dominant and left-handed people are right-brain dominant. However, through brain scans, we can determine which hemisphere is dominant on most humans. Once that is known, this leads to the knowledge of other things. For example, those who are left brain dominant tend to be better at analytical thinking while those that are right brain dominant tend to recognize patterns easier and have an easier time seeing the bigger picture to things.

However, there is a special breed of human that does not have an asymmetrical brain. Instead, they have brains that are much more symmetrical. This leads to the health and psychological problems I mentioned earlier. This breed of humans is the 1 percent: the ambidextrous.

The American Academy of Pediatrics published a study performed by Alina Rodriquez and other researchers that measured these health complications. Rodriquez measured 7871 children from Finland at the ages of 7-8 and again when they were 16. She found that at age 8, those who were ambidextrous were twice as likely to struggle with language skills and academics compared to those who were right handed. Also, at the age of 16, those who were ambidextrous were twice as likely to have these same struggles with school and language. They were also twice as likely to exhibit signs of ADHD compared to right-handers. And when comparing just the 16 year olds that were showing signs of ADHD, the ones who were ambidextrous seemed to have the more severe symptoms compared to those who were right handed.

Reflecting on this study, I would be wary to conclude anything about the whole human population based off of one study with one nationality of subjects. I would feel more comfortable if the study was repeated multiple times and used a broader group of individuals to sample. Also, the study mentions that the data they received was purely based on surveys distributed to people around the subjects like their parents and teachers. For one, parents may be hesitant to answer truthfully about whether or not their child has learning difficulties for various reasons such as pride or denial. That alone can introduce a level of bias. Furthermore, like I mentioned, these results are based off of surveys. Since no experimental variable was manipulated, this was not an experiment. That means there is no definite way of knowing handedness caused the increased numbers in health problems. The study is also not specific with its numbers. It is stated that those who are ambidextrous are twice as likely to have some of the psychological problems compared to right handers but do not provide a baseline risk. By only giving relative risk, it can be deceiving to those who read this study. For example, if 1 righty has ADHD and 2 ambidextrous children have ADHD, it is twice as likely. Not all statistically significant results are practically significant. .

Nonetheless, Rodriquez concluded from her study that her results could be due to “atypical cerebral asymmetry.” She also goes on to state that more research needs to be done on the biological mechanisms to this phenomenon. There is no clear answer as to what causes a brain to be symmetrical. There could be a third variable driving the relationship between brain lateralization and dexterity. If we can learn the connection between brain lateralization and handedness, we as a society can help pinpoint those who may be at risk of these health problems and give them the help they need without using invasive neurological procedures.

As of now, if one wants to know what hemispheres of the brain are specializing in certain tasks, a Wada test must be administered. A Wada test essentially hibernates one side of the brain so doctors can see what cognitive functions the side of the brain that is not hibernated is responsible for. This process can be costly and have health complications. The Department of Neurology at the Cleveland Clinic performed an analysis of 677 patients that had undergone the Wada test. A combined 10.9 percent experienced some type of health complication. 7.2 percent had encephalopathy, 1.2 percent had seizures, 0.6 percent had a stroke, 0.6 percent had transient ischemic attacks, 0.6 percent had a localized hemorrhage at the catheter insertion site, 0.4 percent had carotid artery dissections, 0.3 percent had an allergic reaction to contrast, and 0.1 percent experienced an infection.

Handedness can be a way of knowing about one’s brain lateralization without using this invasive and expensive test. It would be amazing to see if just by running a few tests focused on hand dominance, we can know a plentitude about the functions of that individual’s brain. Science is getting better but it is imperative for more direct studies to be performed. The only way to be certain about anything is to prove causation through repeated experimentation. We know there are links between certain diseases like ADHD and ambidexterity and we know there is a relationship between ambidexterity and symmetrical brains, but how is this all connected? It is still unclear and maybe there is a third confounding variable that has yet to be discovered.

An experiment I would propose would be to manipulate several genes such as PCSK6 and LRRTM1, which are known to be associated with hand dominance, and see how they affect one’s chances of developing a known side affect to ambidexterity such as ADHD. Once we unlock the answer to this question, the possibilities for medicine and science are endless.


The Illusion of Multitasking Boosts Performance

Our ability to do things well suffers when we try to complete several tasks at once, but a series of experiments suggests that merely believing that we’re multitasking may boost our performance by making us more engaged in the tasks at hand. The findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

“Multitasking is often a matter of perception or can even be thought of as an illusion,” explains researcher Shalena Srna of the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. “Regardless of whether people actually engage in a single task or multiple tasks, making them perceive this activity as multitasking is beneficial to performance.”

Evidence suggests that humans are actually incapable of paying attention to multiple tasks at the same time – we may think that we’re multitasking, but we’re actually switching back and forth between tasks.

Importantly, our perception of multitasking is flexible. We might perceive sitting in a meeting as a single task, Srna says, but we may actually be engaged in two tasks: listening to the person speaking and taking notes. When we are clothes shopping, we could view it as looking for the best deals or we could see it as simultaneously browsing the clothing racks and comparing competitors’ prices.

Srna and colleagues wanted to find out whether shifting our perceptions about multitasking could change how we engage with the task(s) at hand.

In a lab-based study, 162 participants watched and transcribed an educational video from Animal Planet. Half of the participants believed they’d be completing two tasks, a learning task and a transcribing task the other half believed they’d be completing a single task testing their learning and writing abilities. In other words, both groups completed the exact same activities, the only difference was their belief about how many tasks were completing at one time.

The results were revealing: Participants who believed they were multitasking transcribed more words per second, wrote a greater number of words accurately, and scored better on a comprehension quiz.

The researchers saw a similar pattern of results in an online note-taking study: Participants who believed they were multitasking took higher-quality notes with more words compared with those who believed they single-tasking.

In another online study, the researchers investigated whether a more subtle manipulation would influence perceptions of multitasking. All participants completed two word puzzles presented on screen at the same time. Some saw puzzles that were supposedly part of the same study and were displayed against the same background others saw puzzles that were supposedly part of two different studies and were displayed against different background colors separated by a vertical line.

As expected, participants who saw the puzzles as part of different studies rated the activity as more like multitasking than did those who believed they were completing tasks for a single study. Again, the multitaskers submitted more words per second and more correct words compared with their single-tasking peers. These results replicated across 30 experiments in which participants received monetary rewards based on their performance.

But why would perceiving an activity as multitasking enhance performance? Srna and colleagues hypothesized that it might come down to participants’ engagement in the tasks.

To test this, the researchers conducted lab-based version of the word puzzle study, using eye-tracking technology to measure participants’ pupil dilation as they worked. Not only did participants in the multitasking condition submit a greater number of correct words, they also showed greater average pupil dilation during the activity, suggesting they were exerting more mental effort to stay engaged. Although the multitaskers did switch more often between the puzzles, this did not appear to hamper their performance.

To be clear, these findings do not suggest that we should all start multitasking to improve our performance. Rather, the research indicates that for a given activity, it’s the belief that we’re multitasking that can influence how well we do.

“In today’s society, we constantly feel like we are juggling different activities to meet the demands on our time, both at work and at home. So it feels like multitasking is everywhere,” says Srna. “We find that multitasking is often a matter of perception that helps, rather than harms, engagement and performance. Thus, when we engage in a given activity, construing it as multitasking could help us.”

Coauthors on the research include Rom Y. Schrift of The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and Gal Zauberman at the Yale University School of Management.

This work was supported by the Wharton Risk Center, an Ackoff Doctoral Student Fellowship, the Jay H. Baker Retailing Center, and the Wharton Behavioral Lab.


Women are significantly better at multitasking than men

(Medical Xpress)—Women are better than men at carrying out multiple tasks according to new research from a team of psychologists including researchers from the University of Hertfordshire.

Women can juggle different tasks at the same time, while men find it difficult to do more than one thing at a time are commonly-held beliefs. Despite these notions being widely believed, very little research has even examined such notions. However, new research from the Universities of Hertfordshire, Glasgow and Leeds just published in BMC Psychology provides support for the proposal that women are better at multitasking.

Keith Laws, Professor of Cognitive Neuropsychology at the University of Hertfordshire, said: "We've all heard stories about men not being able to multitask and only being able to focus on one thing at a time. And also stories about women who are able to manage several activities at the same time.

"Through a set of two experiments we measured people's ability to carry out multiple tasks either at the same time or in very quick succession. And the results showed that women had a distinct advantage in both types of multitasking."

In the first experiment, 120 men and 120 women participated in a computer-based challenge designed to measure their task-switching abilities. The participants performed two tasks separately before being asked to perform them both in the same test.

Although men and women performed the separate tasks with the same speed and accuracy, men were slower than women on the mixed tasks. Women's responses were around sixty-one per cent slower, whereas men's responses were seventy-seven per cent slower - suggesting that women have an advantage over men in this type of multitasking.

In the second experiment, a different group of forty-seven men and forty-seven women were tested to measure their response to multitasking in more common real-life tasks.

In a pre-set time limit, they were asked to sketch out how they would attempt a search for a set of lost keys in a field to find restaurant symbols on a map of the city of Philadelphia (to test their everyday attention levels) and solve simple arithmetical questions. The tasks were chosen to test their planning and strategic abilities, their attention control and manipulation of simple information under time pressure.

It was left for participants to decide how to split the time between each task and they were also told to expect a phone call at some point during the test – which they could choose to answer or not. If they answered the phone, they were asked a series of additional general knowledge questions to add to the burden.

In this series of tests, women scored significantly higher on the key search task - suggesting that they are better at tasks which require high-level cognitive control, particularly planning, monitoring and inhibition.

Overall the results of both experiments support the notion that women are better at multitasking than men. However, further research is required to provide explanations as to precisely why women appear to be better multitaskers.


Frequent Multitaskers Are Bad at It

Jan. 23, 2013 – Most people believe they can multitask effectively, but a University of Utah study indicates that people who multitask the most – including talking on a cell phone while driving – are least capable of doing so.

“What is alarming is that people who talk on cells phones while driving tend to be the people least able to multitask well,” says psychology Professor David Sanbonmatsu, a senior author of the study. “Our data suggest the people talking on cell phones while driving are people who probably shouldn’t. We showed that people who multitask the most are those who appear to be the least capable of multitasking effectively.”

The new study was scheduled for publication Jan. 23 in PLOS ONE, an online journal of the Public Library of Science.

The other senior author, University of Utah psychology Professor David Strayer, adds, “The people who are most likely to multitask harbor the illusion they are better than average at it, when in fact they are no better than average and often worse.”

Citing humorist Garrison Keillor’s catchphrase about kids in Keillor’s fictitious hometown, Strayer says people who use cell phones while driving “all think they live in Lake Wobegon, where everybody is above average. But it’s a statistical impossibility.”

The study ran 310 undergraduate psychology students through a battery of tests and questionnaires to measure actual multitasking ability, perceived multitasking ability, cell phone use while driving, use of a wide array of electronic media, and personality traits such as impulsivity and sensation-seeking. The key findings:

— “The persons who are most capable of multitasking effectively are not the persons who are most likely to engage in multiple tasks simultaneously.” Instead, people who score high on a test of actual multitasking ability tend not to multitask because they are better able to focus attention on the task at hand.

— The more people multitask by talking on cell phones while driving or by using multiple media at once, the more they lack the actual ability to multitask, and their perceived multitasking ability “was found to be significantly inflated.” In fact, 70 percent of participants thought they were above average at multitasking, which is statistically impossible.

— People with high levels of impulsivity and sensation-seeking reported more multitasking. However, there was an exception: People who talk on cell phones while driving tend not to be impulsive, indicating that cell phone use is a deliberate choice.

— The research suggests that people who engage in multitasking often do so not because they have the ability, but “because they are less able to block out distractions and focus on a singular task.”

The researchers conclude, “The negative relation between cellular communication while driving and multitasking ability appears to further bolster arguments for legislation limiting the use of cell phones while operating a motor vehicle.”

Sanbonmatsu and Strayer conducted the study with University of Utah co-authors Jason Watson, an associate professor of psychology, and Nathan Medeiros-Ward, a doctoral student in psychology. The study was funded by the American Automobile Association Foundation for Traffic Safety.

How the Study Was Performed

The researchers say that while people frequently multitask to try to achieve several goals at once, “relatively little is known about when and why people perform more than one attention-demanding task at a time. Related to this, little is known about who is most likely to multitask.”

The study participants were 310 University of Utah psychology undergraduates – 176 female and 134 male with a median age of 21 – who volunteered for their department’s subject pool in exchange for extra course credit.

To measure actual multitasking ability, participants performed a test named Operation Span, or OSPAN. The test involves two tasks: memorization and math computation. Participants must remember two to seven letters, each separated by a math equation that they must identify as true or false. A simple example of a question: “is 2+4=6?, g, is 3-2=2?, a, is 4ࡩ=12.” Answer: true, g, false, a, true.

Participants also ranked their perceptions of their own multitasking ability by giving themselves a score ranging from zero to 100, with 50 percent meaning average.

Study subjects reported how often they used a cell phone while driving, and what percentage of the time they are on the phone while driving. They also completed a survey of how often and for how many hours they use which media, including printed material, television and video, computer video, music, nonmusic audio, video games, phone, instant and text messaging, e-mail, the Web and other computer software such as word processing. The results were used to compute an index of media multitasking.

They also completed well-established questionnaires that measure impulsivity and sensation-seeking.

Who Multitasks and Why?

The researchers looked for significant correlations among results of the various tests and questionnaires.

“The people who multitask the most tend to be impulsive, sensation-seeking, overconfident of their multitasking abilities, and they tend to be less capable of multitasking,” says Strayer, summarizing the findings.

The 25 percent of the people who performed best on the OSPAN test of multitasking ability “are the people who are least likely to multitask and are most likely to do one thing at a time,” Sanbonmatsu says.

In contrast, 70 percent of participants said they were above-average at multitasking, and they were more likely to multitask.

“One of the main reasons people multitask is because they think they are good at it,” Sanbonmatsu says. “But our study suggests people rarely are as good at multitasking as they think they are.”

Multitasking ability on the OSPAN was significantly and negatively correlated with actual media multitasking and cell phone use while driving, meaning the people who multitask the most have the least ability to do so.

“If you have people who are multitasking a lot, you might come to the conclusion they are good at multitasking,” Strayer says. “In fact, the more likely they are to do it, the more likely they are to be bad at it.”

Sanbonmatsu adds: “Our data show people multitask because they have difficulty focusing on one task at a time. They get drawn into secondary tasks. … They get bored and want that stimulation of talking while they are driving.”

Study participants reported spending 13 percent of their driving time talking on a cell phone, which Strayer says roughly squares with federal estimates that one in 10 drivers are on the phone at any given time.

Media multitasking – except cell phone use while driving – correlated significantly with impulsivity, particularly the inability to concentrate and acting without thinking. Impulsive people tend to be more reward-oriented and more apt to take risks, so they may be less sensitive to the costs of multitasking, the researchers say.

Multitasking, including cell phone use while driving, correlated significantly with sensation-seeking, indicating some people multitask because it is more stimulating, interesting and challenging, and less boring – even if it may hurt their overall performance.


Study indicates teens are not as good at multitasking as adults

Credit: Petr Kratochvil/public domain

(Medical Xpress)—A small team of researchers with University College London has conducted a study using volunteers that yielded results that indicated that teen girls are not as good at multitasking as adult women. In their paper published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, the team describes their study and results and why they believe that what they found might apply to parents, children and educators.

Multitasking has become an everyday part of life, people talk on the phone while watching television, or type text messages while they walk down the street—and most seem to believe they are pretty good at it. The researchers with this new effort sought to learn if that is indeed the case, and if there are differences between how well teen girls multitask versus women that have grown to adulthood.

The study consisted of enlisting the assistance of two groups of female volunteers, girls between the ages of 11 and 17, and women between the ages of 22 and 30. Both groups were asked to perform two different types of tasks (one social, one non-social) to determine how well they multitasked. The social task consisted of asking the volunteers to use social cues to guide decision-making as they attempted to move objects between slots in a set of shelves. The non-social task consisted of asking the volunteers to memorize either a two or three-digit number before they started the non-social part of the experiment.

The researchers then monitored the volunteers to see what sort of an impact having to memorize the numbers had on their ability to move the objects. They found that having to do so resulted in performance deficits when engaging in the social task for all of the volunteers, though more so for those that had to memorize the three digit numbers. The researchers also found that the girls in the younger group displayed larger deficits than the older women—accuracy fell by approximately 10 percent for the adults and 15 percent for the girls, which they suggest, means the younger girls were less adept at multitasking.

The researchers suggest their findings indicate that parents and educators might need to take such difference into account when setting up tasks for their children or students.

Abstract
Multitasking is part of the everyday lives of both adolescents and adults. We often multitask during social interactions by simultaneously keeping track of other non-social information. Here, we examined how keeping track of non-social information impacts the ability to navigate social interactions in adolescents and adults. Participants aged 11–17 and 22–30 years old were instructed to carry out two tasks, one social and one non-social, within each trial. The social task involved referential communication, requiring participants to use social cues to guide their decisions, which sometimes required taking a different perspective. The non-social task manipulated cognitive load by requiring participants to remember non-social information in the form of one two-digit number (low load) or three two-digit numbers (high load) presented before each social task stimulus. Participants showed performance deficits when under high cognitive load and when the social task involved taking a different perspective, and individual differences in both trait perspective taking and working memory capacity predicted performance. Overall, adolescents were less adept at multitasking than adults when under high cognitive load. These results suggest that multitasking during social interactions incurs performance deficits, and that adolescents are more sensitive than adults to the effects of cognitive load while multitasking.


Can You Become Ambidextrous Later in Life? It Depends

Righties rule, uh, right? Well, the world is made up of about 90 percent right-handed people so it's simple math that lefties make up the other 10 percent of the population. Folks who are truly ambidextrous — those who use right and left hand equally well — make up a negligible sliver of the population. But is ambidexterity inherited or learned and, if so, can it be learned as an adult?

"A little bit of both," Dr. Sebastian Ocklenburg, says in an email. Ocklenburg is a professor of psychology at Ruhr University in Bochum, Germany and the author of The Asymmetric Brain, a blog focusing on handedness. "Handedness is determined by about 25 percent genetic factors and 75 percentnon-genetic factors like environmental influences and it clearly runs in families, so it is somewhat inherited, but learning might also affect it," he says. "I think ambidexterity for a specific task (e.g., hitting a tennis ball with a racket) [is possible], but full ambidexterity for all tasks is unlikely."

Handedness and Genetics

Handedness, the skill and comfort a person feels using one hand or the other, is considered a complex genetic trait. And since genetics are involved, hand preference develops before a person is even born. But like other complex traits, handedness (including ambidexterity) doesn't have a simple pattern of inheritance.

Yes, there's a greater chance that children of left-handed parents will be left-handed than children of rightys. But, remember, the chance of being a lefty is just 10 percent, so most children of lefties are still right-handed. And while identical twins are more likely than non-identical twins to be either right- or left-handed, many twins have opposite hand preference. And that's before we even talk about whether a child's handedness is allowed to develop naturally or the parents are influencing which hand their child is using.

Hand dominance typically develops around age 3 and is fully developed by age 4 to 5. In other words, if a person is truly ambidextrous, their parents will know it by the time they are school age.

When he was 4 years old, former Major League Baseball pitcher Billy Wagner broke his right elbow and spent the summer in a cast. In his memoir, "A Way Out: Faith, Hope and Love of the Game," Wagner vividly recalls being a natural righty at the time and already mad for baseball. But for the next six weeks he threw only left-handed. When the cast came off, he was in for a surprise. When he tried throwing with his right, the ball went nowhere. He'd lost not just strength, but coordination, for baseball in his right arm and gained it in his left.

"I was a natural righty then, and still am," Wagner wrote in his book. "I do everything right-handed — eat, hold tools, write, start the lawn mower — everything except pitch."

Wagner wouldn't be considered ambidextrous, though he certainly managed to have an incredibly successful career working with his non-dominant hand. Baseball is full of other players who switch hit, meaning they hit equally well from either the left or the right side and that means they're comfortable facing left or right-handed pitchers. Some, like Hall of Famers Eddie Murray, Mickey Mantle and Chipper Jones, were very successful. But they, like Wagner, weren't truly ambidextrous, something very difficult to do. And why is that?

Can You Become Ambidextrous?

"Handedness is something that is generated in the brain, not the hands," Ocklenburg says. "As such, the half of the brain contralateral to the hand is better in controlling fine motor movements (e.g., the left-brain hemisphere in right-handers). The strength of this preference varies between individuals. Some people have a very strong preference for one hand and resulting from that, greater issue in using the other for specific tasks. So, it's the brain that sets the barrier."

If the brain sets the barrier, the brain can also remove it. Take the case of Billy McLaughlin.

McLaughlin is an award-winning guitarist known for a unique style of play — placing both hands on the fretboard, though he was predominantly a right-handed guitar player. But in the late 1990s and into 2000, despite having a record at No. 7 on the Billboard charts, he was struggling with control problems. He was missing notes when he played and suffered with muscle spasms and contractions until he was unable to perform. Finally in 2001, McLaughlin was diagnosed with focal dystonia, a movement disorder causing muscles to contract involuntarily. Though advised to find another career, McLaughlin opted to teach himself to play left-handed — and he succeeded.

So this begs the question: Can we teach ourselves to become ambidextrous as adults? A 2007 study found that as we age, we actually become more ambidextrous on our own, in part because the hand we use loses its dominance. The study was small, and included 60 participants, all strongly right-handed according to the Edinburgh Handedness Inventory (EHI). The participants completed various computerized dexterity tests, which included line tracing, an aiming task and tapping.

The youngest group (average age 25) performed all the skills proficiently using their right hand. The middle-age participants (average age 50) performed well using either hand on the aiming task, while the two oldest groups (average ages 70 and 80 years) performed just as well using either hand on all tasks except one.

However, overall performance appeared to decline with increasing age, especially for the right hand, leading researchers to believe that, "we become more ambidextrous as we get older because our dominant hand loses its superior dexterity and becomes more like our weaker hand."

Some people have wondered whether attempting to become ambidextrous could strengthen the brain and potentially slow or "fight" the effects of aging or dementia. "That is a myth," Ocklenburg says. "While it is true in general that brain training is a good idea when aging, research has shown that what gets strengthened is what is trained. So, if I train to write with my non-dominant hand, this would affect the motor brain areas of the contralateral half of the brain – but not the areas involved in memory. Thus, a specific memory training would make more sense in aging/dementia."


Mutltitasking hurts performance but makes you feel better

People aren't very good at media multitasking -- like reading a book while watching TV -- but do it anyway because it makes them feel good, a new study suggests. The findings provide clues as to why multitasking is so popular, even though many studies show it is not productive.

Researchers had college students record all of their media use and other activities for 28 days, including why they used various media sources and what they got out of it.

The findings showed that multitasking often gave the students an emotional boost, even when it hurt their cognitive functions, such as studying.

"There's this myth among some people that multitasking makes them more productive," said Zheng Wang, lead author of the study and assistant professor of communication at Ohio State University.

"But they seem to be misperceiving the positive feelings they get from multitasking. They are not being more productive -- they just feel more emotionally satisfied from their work."

Take, for example, students who watched TV while reading a book. They reported feeling more emotionally satisfied than those who studied without watching TV, but also reported that they didn't achieve their cognitive goals as well, Wang said.

"They felt satisfied not because they were effective at studying, but because the addition of TV made the studying entertaining. The combination of the activities accounts for the good feelings obtained," Wang said.

Wang conducted the study with John Tchernev, a graduate student in Communication at Ohio State. Their results appear online in the Journal of Communication and will be published in a future print edition.

Wang said many studies done in laboratory settings have found that people show poorer performance on a variety of tasks when they try to juggle multiple media sources at the same time: for example, going from texting a friend, to reading a book, to watching an online video.

But surveys show that media multitasking is only becoming more popular. The question, Wang said, is why do people do so much multitasking if it actually impairs their performance?

To answer that question, Wang said they had to move out of the laboratory and into real life. They recruited 32 college students who agreed to carry a cellphone-like device and report on their activities three times each day for four weeks.

The participants reported on each media use (such as computer, radio, print, television, radio) and sub types (for computer use, whether they were web browsing, using social networking, etc.) They reported the type of activity, the duration, and whether any other activities were performed simultaneously (in other words, whether they were multitasking).

They also provided their motivations for each activity or combination of activities from a list of seven potential needs, including social, fun/entertainment, study/work, and habits/background noise. For each need, they reported the strength of the need on a 10-point scale, and whether those needs were met on a 4-point scale.

The results showed that participants were more likely to multitask when they reported an increase in cognitive needs (such as study or work) or habitual needs or both.

That means, for example, that the students were more likely to multitask when they needed to study (a cognitive need.)

But one of the key findings of the study is that this multitasking didn't do a very good job of satisfying their cognitive needs which actually motivate the multitasking in the first place, Wang said. That's probably because their other media use distracted them from the job of studying. However, the students reported that the multitasking was very good at meeting their emotional needs (fun/entertainment/relaxing) -- interestingly, a need they weren't even seeking to fulfill.

In addition, the results showed that habits played an important role in the use of media multitasking.

"Our findings showed that habitual needs increase media multitasking and are also gratified from multitasking," she said.

This suggests that people get used to multitasking, which makes them more likely to continue.

"We found what we call a dynamical feedback loop. If you multitask today, you're likely to do so again tomorrow, further strengthening the behavior over time," she said.

"This is worrisome because students begin to feel like they need to have the TV on or they need to continually check their text messages or computer while they do their homework. It's not helping them, but they get an emotional reward that keeps them doing it.

"It is critical that we carefully examine the long-term influence of media multitasking on how we perform on cognitive tasks."


Do Left-Handed People Think Differently?

In many ways, left-handed people do think differently. Some reasons are sociological, while others are physiological.

Hand Preference Development

Men are slightly more likely to be left-handed, as are twins. There are trends to hand preference development, and although researchers are still exploring what exactly causes people to be left-handed, we know that genetics influence it. The tendency to have a dominant left hand runs in families. Unlike other genetic traits, though, it is not entirely predictable. Two left-handed people are not guaranteed a left-handed child.

The U.S. National Library of Medicine stated, “It was initially thought that a single gene-controlled handedness. However, more recent studies suggest that multiple genes, perhaps up to 40, contribute to this trait. Each of these genes likely has a weak effect by itself, but together they play a significant role in establishing hand preference.”

An article in Neuropsychologia stated fetuses show a strong preference for arm movement early on in development. By the fifteenth week of pregnancy, 90% of fetuses prefer right-sided thumb sucking. These initial preferences are correlated with handedness later in life, illustrating that handedness is partially developed before birth.

The Left-Handed Brain

Whether the left-handed brain is anatomically different from the right-handed brain is a topic of debate and has spurred much research. Left-handed brain function is still studied extensively. Handedness is a form of functional hemispheric asymmetries that establish differences between the left and right sides of the brain. Studies are inconsistent in their findings of whether structural make-up in the brain contributes to handedness.

A 2019 article stated, “While large-scale neuroimaging studies using automated methods have largely failed to find local anatomical asymmetries associated with hand preference, other studies identifying specific motor regions have been able to find local morphological and functional differences.”

The article reported findings in MRT imaging indicating left-handed people differ from their right-handed peers in three main areas of the brain, including the motor cortex for both sexes and the striatum and the white matter of the cerebellum in male participants. All three areas of the brain play a role in motor function.

While some reasons for the differences in thinking and functioning may be genetic and anatomical, left-handedness is behavioral as well. Things left-handers do differently are often influenced by the societal implications of having a dominant hand that differs from the general public.

Left-Handed People in a Right-Handed World

The world we live in is largely built for right-handed people. Because of this, left-handed people meet an array of challenges that right-handed people do not encounter. The fact that they must do daily tasks in a society that caters to people with a different dominant hand makes them think differently in everyday life.

Insider magazine pointed out tiny things that right-handed people often take for granted that are tougher for left-handers. The article stated, “The world is designed for the right-handed, and lefties have to endure lots of little daily struggles righties might not think twice about.”

The article points out that zippers, measuring cups, notebooks, credit card keypads and more are designed for the right-handed. Many of the psychological differences between right-handed people and left-handed people are likely the result of left-handers adapting. Much of the things left-handers do differently are outcomes of necessity.

Before much of today’s research was completed, it was thought that left-handedness could be unlearned. Until recently, students were often forced to use their right hand to write in school, even when using their left hand made more sense to them. Today, we know that there is nothing wrong with being left-handed and understand that forcing children to change their handedness could have long-lasting adverse effects.

German psychologist Anne-Kathrin Schwarz said, “From the womb, we have a dominant hand that better suits the fine motor skills, which, of course, is decided by the brain. And, when we act against this disposition, it has consequences for concentration, cognitive performance, or, for example, on how well we can learn.”

Education was not the only area that left-handed people were thought to be inferior. For much of history, left-handers were believed to be more prone to psychological problems and even physical injuries. More recent studies dispute this. In fact, some studies show there are left-handed advantages. For example, according to studies, left-handed professional athletes may have an advantage over their right-handed counterparts, possibly because their movements are less predictable than that of their right-handed peers.

Creative thinking is necessary when living life as a left-hander, which may lead to better adaptability and problem-solving skills in professional life. “Even if it’s as small as adapting to doors, tools, or scissors . . . we’ve developed functional solutions for it all. That makes left-handers more flexible in the office and fast to react,” stated an article in Fast Company.

The article goes on to highlight that left-handed people can come up with multiple options for solutions to problems and often do not see things in black and white. The article also suggested that they may be more independent because their left-handedness sets them apart from many of their peers.

These left-handed statistics paint a fascinating picture of what handedness can influence. Left-handed people facts suggest that their unique perspective on the world leads to different behaviors and strengths. There is still much to be explored when it comes to the psychology of left-handed brain differences and what it can tell us about human development, mental health and more.

To learn more about left-handed brain differences and other interesting psychological questions, consider an online bachelor’s in psychology from Notre Dame College. Our customizable degree allows you to tailor your education by choosing from numerous areas of study within the field. Our holistic approach to psychology focuses on the mind, body and spirit and means increased marketability in the workforce.


Do Left-Handed People Think Differently?

In many ways, left-handed people do think differently. Some reasons are sociological, while others are physiological.

Hand Preference Development

Men are slightly more likely to be left-handed, as are twins. There are trends to hand preference development, and although researchers are still exploring what exactly causes people to be left-handed, we know that genetics influence it. The tendency to have a dominant left hand runs in families. Unlike other genetic traits, though, it is not entirely predictable. Two left-handed people are not guaranteed a left-handed child.

The U.S. National Library of Medicine stated, “It was initially thought that a single gene-controlled handedness. However, more recent studies suggest that multiple genes, perhaps up to 40, contribute to this trait. Each of these genes likely has a weak effect by itself, but together they play a significant role in establishing hand preference.”

An article in Neuropsychologia stated fetuses show a strong preference for arm movement early on in development. By the fifteenth week of pregnancy, 90% of fetuses prefer right-sided thumb sucking. These initial preferences are correlated with handedness later in life, illustrating that handedness is partially developed before birth.

The Left-Handed Brain

Whether the left-handed brain is anatomically different from the right-handed brain is a topic of debate and has spurred much research. Left-handed brain function is still studied extensively. Handedness is a form of functional hemispheric asymmetries that establish differences between the left and right sides of the brain. Studies are inconsistent in their findings of whether structural make-up in the brain contributes to handedness.

A 2019 article stated, “While large-scale neuroimaging studies using automated methods have largely failed to find local anatomical asymmetries associated with hand preference, other studies identifying specific motor regions have been able to find local morphological and functional differences.”

The article reported findings in MRT imaging indicating left-handed people differ from their right-handed peers in three main areas of the brain, including the motor cortex for both sexes and the striatum and the white matter of the cerebellum in male participants. All three areas of the brain play a role in motor function.

While some reasons for the differences in thinking and functioning may be genetic and anatomical, left-handedness is behavioral as well. Things left-handers do differently are often influenced by the societal implications of having a dominant hand that differs from the general public.

Left-Handed People in a Right-Handed World

The world we live in is largely built for right-handed people. Because of this, left-handed people meet an array of challenges that right-handed people do not encounter. The fact that they must do daily tasks in a society that caters to people with a different dominant hand makes them think differently in everyday life.

Insider magazine pointed out tiny things that right-handed people often take for granted that are tougher for left-handers. The article stated, “The world is designed for the right-handed, and lefties have to endure lots of little daily struggles righties might not think twice about.”

The article points out that zippers, measuring cups, notebooks, credit card keypads and more are designed for the right-handed. Many of the psychological differences between right-handed people and left-handed people are likely the result of left-handers adapting. Much of the things left-handers do differently are outcomes of necessity.

Before much of today’s research was completed, it was thought that left-handedness could be unlearned. Until recently, students were often forced to use their right hand to write in school, even when using their left hand made more sense to them. Today, we know that there is nothing wrong with being left-handed and understand that forcing children to change their handedness could have long-lasting adverse effects.

German psychologist Anne-Kathrin Schwarz said, “From the womb, we have a dominant hand that better suits the fine motor skills, which, of course, is decided by the brain. And, when we act against this disposition, it has consequences for concentration, cognitive performance, or, for example, on how well we can learn.”

Education was not the only area that left-handed people were thought to be inferior. For much of history, left-handers were believed to be more prone to psychological problems and even physical injuries. More recent studies dispute this. In fact, some studies show there are left-handed advantages. For example, according to studies, left-handed professional athletes may have an advantage over their right-handed counterparts, possibly because their movements are less predictable than that of their right-handed peers.

Creative thinking is necessary when living life as a left-hander, which may lead to better adaptability and problem-solving skills in professional life. “Even if it’s as small as adapting to doors, tools, or scissors . . . we’ve developed functional solutions for it all. That makes left-handers more flexible in the office and fast to react,” stated an article in Fast Company.

The article goes on to highlight that left-handed people can come up with multiple options for solutions to problems and often do not see things in black and white. The article also suggested that they may be more independent because their left-handedness sets them apart from many of their peers.

These left-handed statistics paint a fascinating picture of what handedness can influence. Left-handed people facts suggest that their unique perspective on the world leads to different behaviors and strengths. There is still much to be explored when it comes to the psychology of left-handed brain differences and what it can tell us about human development, mental health and more.

To learn more about left-handed brain differences and other interesting psychological questions, consider an online bachelor’s in psychology from Notre Dame College. Our customizable degree allows you to tailor your education by choosing from numerous areas of study within the field. Our holistic approach to psychology focuses on the mind, body and spirit and means increased marketability in the workforce.


When you reach for a glass of water which hand do you use? When you take a test, which hand do you use to bubble in your answers? Is it the same hand? Is it the opposite one? Do you ever give it a second thought? Though which hand you use for everyday tasks may seem simple in nature, there is a vast amount of science being done behind the scenes to see what it all means, and what it could mean for the future.

To start, the American Psychological Association says that approximately 90 percent of the human population is right handed. Only about 1 percent of the human population is born ambidextrous. That also means that the other 9 percent are either left hand dominant or are mixed handed. Mixed handed refers to the idea that one hand is dominant for some tasks while the other hand is dominant for others. This is different from ambidexterity which is the ability to use either hand just as efficiently on any task. Unfortunately, there is currently no consensus in the scientific community on what handedness means, or how many classifications there should be for it. Indiana University recognizes this lack of standards throughout the scientific community. They go on to state that there is a clear difference between ambidextrous, and mixed handedness. So potentially, one can be right handed, left handed, cross dominant (mixed handed), or truly ambidextrous.

In an attempt to clear up some of the confusion, the Department of Psychiatry and Neurology at Tulane University performed a study that measured combinations of hand preference and hand performance to try to better classify groups of handedness. They studied 64 participants and found that more than 90 percent of the time, the hand you performed better with was the same hand you preferred or were more comfortable with. This study basically shows that handedness is not a clear-cut answer and that there is a spectrum of cross dominance between the two hands. This can be due to predetermined parts of the brain (nature), and which hand the person is forced to use at an early age (nurture).

On that note, one’s dominant hand is not determined from strictly nature or nurture but more of a combination of the two. Dana Smith, who has a Ph.D is psychology, reports that there are many genes known to be associated with handedness. So, when a child is born, they have a clear preference. Smith then goes on to say that this preference can try to be switched early on in a child’s life while he or she is still making neurological connections and pathways in the brain. When this happens, they become mixed handed and show signs of both the nature and nurture aspects of handedness.

So right about now you may be asking yourself, “Why does this matter?” It turns out there are many health and psychological problems that stem from handedness. Well, maybe not handedness, but more importantly brain lateralization. Brain lateralization is the idea that the brain has two hemispheres that compartmentalize and perform certain cognitive functions. For example, the left side of the brain is known to handle the use and understanding of language and speech. Though there seems to be correlation, the science is still not conclusive that right-handed people are left-brain dominant and left-handed people are right-brain dominant. However, through brain scans, we can determine which hemisphere is dominant on most humans. Once that is known, this leads to the knowledge of other things. For example, those who are left brain dominant tend to be better at analytical thinking while those that are right brain dominant tend to recognize patterns easier and have an easier time seeing the bigger picture to things.

However, there is a special breed of human that does not have an asymmetrical brain. Instead, they have brains that are much more symmetrical. This leads to the health and psychological problems I mentioned earlier. This breed of humans is the 1 percent: the ambidextrous.

The American Academy of Pediatrics published a study performed by Alina Rodriquez and other researchers that measured these health complications. Rodriquez measured 7871 children from Finland at the ages of 7-8 and again when they were 16. She found that at age 8, those who were ambidextrous were twice as likely to struggle with language skills and academics compared to those who were right handed. Also, at the age of 16, those who were ambidextrous were twice as likely to have these same struggles with school and language. They were also twice as likely to exhibit signs of ADHD compared to right-handers. And when comparing just the 16 year olds that were showing signs of ADHD, the ones who were ambidextrous seemed to have the more severe symptoms compared to those who were right handed.

Reflecting on this study, I would be wary to conclude anything about the whole human population based off of one study with one nationality of subjects. I would feel more comfortable if the study was repeated multiple times and used a broader group of individuals to sample. Also, the study mentions that the data they received was purely based on surveys distributed to people around the subjects like their parents and teachers. For one, parents may be hesitant to answer truthfully about whether or not their child has learning difficulties for various reasons such as pride or denial. That alone can introduce a level of bias. Furthermore, like I mentioned, these results are based off of surveys. Since no experimental variable was manipulated, this was not an experiment. That means there is no definite way of knowing handedness caused the increased numbers in health problems. The study is also not specific with its numbers. It is stated that those who are ambidextrous are twice as likely to have some of the psychological problems compared to right handers but do not provide a baseline risk. By only giving relative risk, it can be deceiving to those who read this study. For example, if 1 righty has ADHD and 2 ambidextrous children have ADHD, it is twice as likely. Not all statistically significant results are practically significant. .

Nonetheless, Rodriquez concluded from her study that her results could be due to “atypical cerebral asymmetry.” She also goes on to state that more research needs to be done on the biological mechanisms to this phenomenon. There is no clear answer as to what causes a brain to be symmetrical. There could be a third variable driving the relationship between brain lateralization and dexterity. If we can learn the connection between brain lateralization and handedness, we as a society can help pinpoint those who may be at risk of these health problems and give them the help they need without using invasive neurological procedures.

As of now, if one wants to know what hemispheres of the brain are specializing in certain tasks, a Wada test must be administered. A Wada test essentially hibernates one side of the brain so doctors can see what cognitive functions the side of the brain that is not hibernated is responsible for. This process can be costly and have health complications. The Department of Neurology at the Cleveland Clinic performed an analysis of 677 patients that had undergone the Wada test. A combined 10.9 percent experienced some type of health complication. 7.2 percent had encephalopathy, 1.2 percent had seizures, 0.6 percent had a stroke, 0.6 percent had transient ischemic attacks, 0.6 percent had a localized hemorrhage at the catheter insertion site, 0.4 percent had carotid artery dissections, 0.3 percent had an allergic reaction to contrast, and 0.1 percent experienced an infection.

Handedness can be a way of knowing about one’s brain lateralization without using this invasive and expensive test. It would be amazing to see if just by running a few tests focused on hand dominance, we can know a plentitude about the functions of that individual’s brain. Science is getting better but it is imperative for more direct studies to be performed. The only way to be certain about anything is to prove causation through repeated experimentation. We know there are links between certain diseases like ADHD and ambidexterity and we know there is a relationship between ambidexterity and symmetrical brains, but how is this all connected? It is still unclear and maybe there is a third confounding variable that has yet to be discovered.

An experiment I would propose would be to manipulate several genes such as PCSK6 and LRRTM1, which are known to be associated with hand dominance, and see how they affect one’s chances of developing a known side affect to ambidexterity such as ADHD. Once we unlock the answer to this question, the possibilities for medicine and science are endless.


Mutltitasking hurts performance but makes you feel better

People aren't very good at media multitasking -- like reading a book while watching TV -- but do it anyway because it makes them feel good, a new study suggests. The findings provide clues as to why multitasking is so popular, even though many studies show it is not productive.

Researchers had college students record all of their media use and other activities for 28 days, including why they used various media sources and what they got out of it.

The findings showed that multitasking often gave the students an emotional boost, even when it hurt their cognitive functions, such as studying.

"There's this myth among some people that multitasking makes them more productive," said Zheng Wang, lead author of the study and assistant professor of communication at Ohio State University.

"But they seem to be misperceiving the positive feelings they get from multitasking. They are not being more productive -- they just feel more emotionally satisfied from their work."

Take, for example, students who watched TV while reading a book. They reported feeling more emotionally satisfied than those who studied without watching TV, but also reported that they didn't achieve their cognitive goals as well, Wang said.

"They felt satisfied not because they were effective at studying, but because the addition of TV made the studying entertaining. The combination of the activities accounts for the good feelings obtained," Wang said.

Wang conducted the study with John Tchernev, a graduate student in Communication at Ohio State. Their results appear online in the Journal of Communication and will be published in a future print edition.

Wang said many studies done in laboratory settings have found that people show poorer performance on a variety of tasks when they try to juggle multiple media sources at the same time: for example, going from texting a friend, to reading a book, to watching an online video.

But surveys show that media multitasking is only becoming more popular. The question, Wang said, is why do people do so much multitasking if it actually impairs their performance?

To answer that question, Wang said they had to move out of the laboratory and into real life. They recruited 32 college students who agreed to carry a cellphone-like device and report on their activities three times each day for four weeks.

The participants reported on each media use (such as computer, radio, print, television, radio) and sub types (for computer use, whether they were web browsing, using social networking, etc.) They reported the type of activity, the duration, and whether any other activities were performed simultaneously (in other words, whether they were multitasking).

They also provided their motivations for each activity or combination of activities from a list of seven potential needs, including social, fun/entertainment, study/work, and habits/background noise. For each need, they reported the strength of the need on a 10-point scale, and whether those needs were met on a 4-point scale.

The results showed that participants were more likely to multitask when they reported an increase in cognitive needs (such as study or work) or habitual needs or both.

That means, for example, that the students were more likely to multitask when they needed to study (a cognitive need.)

But one of the key findings of the study is that this multitasking didn't do a very good job of satisfying their cognitive needs which actually motivate the multitasking in the first place, Wang said. That's probably because their other media use distracted them from the job of studying. However, the students reported that the multitasking was very good at meeting their emotional needs (fun/entertainment/relaxing) -- interestingly, a need they weren't even seeking to fulfill.

In addition, the results showed that habits played an important role in the use of media multitasking.

"Our findings showed that habitual needs increase media multitasking and are also gratified from multitasking," she said.

This suggests that people get used to multitasking, which makes them more likely to continue.

"We found what we call a dynamical feedback loop. If you multitask today, you're likely to do so again tomorrow, further strengthening the behavior over time," she said.

"This is worrisome because students begin to feel like they need to have the TV on or they need to continually check their text messages or computer while they do their homework. It's not helping them, but they get an emotional reward that keeps them doing it.

"It is critical that we carefully examine the long-term influence of media multitasking on how we perform on cognitive tasks."


Can You Become Ambidextrous Later in Life? It Depends

Righties rule, uh, right? Well, the world is made up of about 90 percent right-handed people so it's simple math that lefties make up the other 10 percent of the population. Folks who are truly ambidextrous — those who use right and left hand equally well — make up a negligible sliver of the population. But is ambidexterity inherited or learned and, if so, can it be learned as an adult?

"A little bit of both," Dr. Sebastian Ocklenburg, says in an email. Ocklenburg is a professor of psychology at Ruhr University in Bochum, Germany and the author of The Asymmetric Brain, a blog focusing on handedness. "Handedness is determined by about 25 percent genetic factors and 75 percentnon-genetic factors like environmental influences and it clearly runs in families, so it is somewhat inherited, but learning might also affect it," he says. "I think ambidexterity for a specific task (e.g., hitting a tennis ball with a racket) [is possible], but full ambidexterity for all tasks is unlikely."

Handedness and Genetics

Handedness, the skill and comfort a person feels using one hand or the other, is considered a complex genetic trait. And since genetics are involved, hand preference develops before a person is even born. But like other complex traits, handedness (including ambidexterity) doesn't have a simple pattern of inheritance.

Yes, there's a greater chance that children of left-handed parents will be left-handed than children of rightys. But, remember, the chance of being a lefty is just 10 percent, so most children of lefties are still right-handed. And while identical twins are more likely than non-identical twins to be either right- or left-handed, many twins have opposite hand preference. And that's before we even talk about whether a child's handedness is allowed to develop naturally or the parents are influencing which hand their child is using.

Hand dominance typically develops around age 3 and is fully developed by age 4 to 5. In other words, if a person is truly ambidextrous, their parents will know it by the time they are school age.

When he was 4 years old, former Major League Baseball pitcher Billy Wagner broke his right elbow and spent the summer in a cast. In his memoir, "A Way Out: Faith, Hope and Love of the Game," Wagner vividly recalls being a natural righty at the time and already mad for baseball. But for the next six weeks he threw only left-handed. When the cast came off, he was in for a surprise. When he tried throwing with his right, the ball went nowhere. He'd lost not just strength, but coordination, for baseball in his right arm and gained it in his left.

"I was a natural righty then, and still am," Wagner wrote in his book. "I do everything right-handed — eat, hold tools, write, start the lawn mower — everything except pitch."

Wagner wouldn't be considered ambidextrous, though he certainly managed to have an incredibly successful career working with his non-dominant hand. Baseball is full of other players who switch hit, meaning they hit equally well from either the left or the right side and that means they're comfortable facing left or right-handed pitchers. Some, like Hall of Famers Eddie Murray, Mickey Mantle and Chipper Jones, were very successful. But they, like Wagner, weren't truly ambidextrous, something very difficult to do. And why is that?

Can You Become Ambidextrous?

"Handedness is something that is generated in the brain, not the hands," Ocklenburg says. "As such, the half of the brain contralateral to the hand is better in controlling fine motor movements (e.g., the left-brain hemisphere in right-handers). The strength of this preference varies between individuals. Some people have a very strong preference for one hand and resulting from that, greater issue in using the other for specific tasks. So, it's the brain that sets the barrier."

If the brain sets the barrier, the brain can also remove it. Take the case of Billy McLaughlin.

McLaughlin is an award-winning guitarist known for a unique style of play — placing both hands on the fretboard, though he was predominantly a right-handed guitar player. But in the late 1990s and into 2000, despite having a record at No. 7 on the Billboard charts, he was struggling with control problems. He was missing notes when he played and suffered with muscle spasms and contractions until he was unable to perform. Finally in 2001, McLaughlin was diagnosed with focal dystonia, a movement disorder causing muscles to contract involuntarily. Though advised to find another career, McLaughlin opted to teach himself to play left-handed — and he succeeded.

So this begs the question: Can we teach ourselves to become ambidextrous as adults? A 2007 study found that as we age, we actually become more ambidextrous on our own, in part because the hand we use loses its dominance. The study was small, and included 60 participants, all strongly right-handed according to the Edinburgh Handedness Inventory (EHI). The participants completed various computerized dexterity tests, which included line tracing, an aiming task and tapping.

The youngest group (average age 25) performed all the skills proficiently using their right hand. The middle-age participants (average age 50) performed well using either hand on the aiming task, while the two oldest groups (average ages 70 and 80 years) performed just as well using either hand on all tasks except one.

However, overall performance appeared to decline with increasing age, especially for the right hand, leading researchers to believe that, "we become more ambidextrous as we get older because our dominant hand loses its superior dexterity and becomes more like our weaker hand."

Some people have wondered whether attempting to become ambidextrous could strengthen the brain and potentially slow or "fight" the effects of aging or dementia. "That is a myth," Ocklenburg says. "While it is true in general that brain training is a good idea when aging, research has shown that what gets strengthened is what is trained. So, if I train to write with my non-dominant hand, this would affect the motor brain areas of the contralateral half of the brain – but not the areas involved in memory. Thus, a specific memory training would make more sense in aging/dementia."


If You Think You're Good At Multitasking, You Probably Aren't

Everybody complains that people shouldn't talk on cellphones while driving. And yet it seems pretty much everybody does it.

That may be because so many of us think we're multitasking ninjas, while the rest of the people nattering away while driving are idiots.

But scientists say that the better people think they are at multitasking, the worse they really are at juggling.

Researchers at the University of Utah wanted to find out which personalities were more likely to try to do two tasks at once. They're keenly interested in people who talk on the phone or text while driving, since there's plenty of data that even using a hands-free phone boosts the risks of accidents.

That bit isn't exactly breaking news.

For quite a few years, researchers have been making the case that people who drive while using phones drive as badly as people who are legally drunk. But we persist in thinking we can handle it.

People don't multitask because they're good at it. They do it because they are more distracted.

How come? The Utah folks speculated that multitaskers would be more apt to test high for traits like risk-taking, sensation-seeking and impulsivity. Turns out the researchers were right.

They asked student volunteers whether they used cellphones while driving, and whether they were good at multitasking. Then they tested the students' multitasking ability by asking them to solve math problems while remembering random strings of letters.

They found that the people who multitasked the most in real life — the impulsive risk-takers — were actually much worse at juggling tasks than people who rarely drove while phoning.

Even worse, these demon multitaskers thought they were terrific at it, though the cold, hard data proved they weren't.

Your Health

Multitasking In The Car: Just Like Drunken Driving

"People don't multitask because they're good at it," says David Sanbonmatsu, a professor of psychology at the University of Utah and lead author of the study, which was published online in the journal PLOS One. "They do it because they are more distracted. They have trouble inhibiting the impulse to do another activity."

Research News

Think You're Multitasking? Think Again

Seventy percent of the study participants, all college undergraduates, said they thought they were better than average at multitasking. Of course, that's statistically impossible — a drivers' ed version of Lake Wobegon, with all multitasking drivers above average.

Texting drivers aren't the only ones who think they're aces at jobs they're actually flubbing. There's plenty of other research showing that people tend to overestimate personal attributes like attractiveness and talent. That proved true in this study, too. It was the non-risk-taking non-texters who actually turned out to be better at multitasking. They could maintain focus and get the job done.

"People sometimes think multitasking means greater productivity," Sanbonmatsu told Shots. "That's not what the findings in the literature say at all. A lot of times people multitask because they can't focus on the task that's most important to them."

Sanbonmatsu and his colleagues are now going to look into why we keep driving while texting, even though we know it's dangerous. Maybe it's because we think that, unlike the other mopes on the highway, we're just darned good at it.


Study indicates teens are not as good at multitasking as adults

Credit: Petr Kratochvil/public domain

(Medical Xpress)—A small team of researchers with University College London has conducted a study using volunteers that yielded results that indicated that teen girls are not as good at multitasking as adult women. In their paper published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, the team describes their study and results and why they believe that what they found might apply to parents, children and educators.

Multitasking has become an everyday part of life, people talk on the phone while watching television, or type text messages while they walk down the street—and most seem to believe they are pretty good at it. The researchers with this new effort sought to learn if that is indeed the case, and if there are differences between how well teen girls multitask versus women that have grown to adulthood.

The study consisted of enlisting the assistance of two groups of female volunteers, girls between the ages of 11 and 17, and women between the ages of 22 and 30. Both groups were asked to perform two different types of tasks (one social, one non-social) to determine how well they multitasked. The social task consisted of asking the volunteers to use social cues to guide decision-making as they attempted to move objects between slots in a set of shelves. The non-social task consisted of asking the volunteers to memorize either a two or three-digit number before they started the non-social part of the experiment.

The researchers then monitored the volunteers to see what sort of an impact having to memorize the numbers had on their ability to move the objects. They found that having to do so resulted in performance deficits when engaging in the social task for all of the volunteers, though more so for those that had to memorize the three digit numbers. The researchers also found that the girls in the younger group displayed larger deficits than the older women—accuracy fell by approximately 10 percent for the adults and 15 percent for the girls, which they suggest, means the younger girls were less adept at multitasking.

The researchers suggest their findings indicate that parents and educators might need to take such difference into account when setting up tasks for their children or students.

Abstract
Multitasking is part of the everyday lives of both adolescents and adults. We often multitask during social interactions by simultaneously keeping track of other non-social information. Here, we examined how keeping track of non-social information impacts the ability to navigate social interactions in adolescents and adults. Participants aged 11–17 and 22–30 years old were instructed to carry out two tasks, one social and one non-social, within each trial. The social task involved referential communication, requiring participants to use social cues to guide their decisions, which sometimes required taking a different perspective. The non-social task manipulated cognitive load by requiring participants to remember non-social information in the form of one two-digit number (low load) or three two-digit numbers (high load) presented before each social task stimulus. Participants showed performance deficits when under high cognitive load and when the social task involved taking a different perspective, and individual differences in both trait perspective taking and working memory capacity predicted performance. Overall, adolescents were less adept at multitasking than adults when under high cognitive load. These results suggest that multitasking during social interactions incurs performance deficits, and that adolescents are more sensitive than adults to the effects of cognitive load while multitasking.


Frequent Multitaskers Are Bad at It

Jan. 23, 2013 – Most people believe they can multitask effectively, but a University of Utah study indicates that people who multitask the most – including talking on a cell phone while driving – are least capable of doing so.

“What is alarming is that people who talk on cells phones while driving tend to be the people least able to multitask well,” says psychology Professor David Sanbonmatsu, a senior author of the study. “Our data suggest the people talking on cell phones while driving are people who probably shouldn’t. We showed that people who multitask the most are those who appear to be the least capable of multitasking effectively.”

The new study was scheduled for publication Jan. 23 in PLOS ONE, an online journal of the Public Library of Science.

The other senior author, University of Utah psychology Professor David Strayer, adds, “The people who are most likely to multitask harbor the illusion they are better than average at it, when in fact they are no better than average and often worse.”

Citing humorist Garrison Keillor’s catchphrase about kids in Keillor’s fictitious hometown, Strayer says people who use cell phones while driving “all think they live in Lake Wobegon, where everybody is above average. But it’s a statistical impossibility.”

The study ran 310 undergraduate psychology students through a battery of tests and questionnaires to measure actual multitasking ability, perceived multitasking ability, cell phone use while driving, use of a wide array of electronic media, and personality traits such as impulsivity and sensation-seeking. The key findings:

— “The persons who are most capable of multitasking effectively are not the persons who are most likely to engage in multiple tasks simultaneously.” Instead, people who score high on a test of actual multitasking ability tend not to multitask because they are better able to focus attention on the task at hand.

— The more people multitask by talking on cell phones while driving or by using multiple media at once, the more they lack the actual ability to multitask, and their perceived multitasking ability “was found to be significantly inflated.” In fact, 70 percent of participants thought they were above average at multitasking, which is statistically impossible.

— People with high levels of impulsivity and sensation-seeking reported more multitasking. However, there was an exception: People who talk on cell phones while driving tend not to be impulsive, indicating that cell phone use is a deliberate choice.

— The research suggests that people who engage in multitasking often do so not because they have the ability, but “because they are less able to block out distractions and focus on a singular task.”

The researchers conclude, “The negative relation between cellular communication while driving and multitasking ability appears to further bolster arguments for legislation limiting the use of cell phones while operating a motor vehicle.”

Sanbonmatsu and Strayer conducted the study with University of Utah co-authors Jason Watson, an associate professor of psychology, and Nathan Medeiros-Ward, a doctoral student in psychology. The study was funded by the American Automobile Association Foundation for Traffic Safety.

How the Study Was Performed

The researchers say that while people frequently multitask to try to achieve several goals at once, “relatively little is known about when and why people perform more than one attention-demanding task at a time. Related to this, little is known about who is most likely to multitask.”

The study participants were 310 University of Utah psychology undergraduates – 176 female and 134 male with a median age of 21 – who volunteered for their department’s subject pool in exchange for extra course credit.

To measure actual multitasking ability, participants performed a test named Operation Span, or OSPAN. The test involves two tasks: memorization and math computation. Participants must remember two to seven letters, each separated by a math equation that they must identify as true or false. A simple example of a question: “is 2+4=6?, g, is 3-2=2?, a, is 4ࡩ=12.” Answer: true, g, false, a, true.

Participants also ranked their perceptions of their own multitasking ability by giving themselves a score ranging from zero to 100, with 50 percent meaning average.

Study subjects reported how often they used a cell phone while driving, and what percentage of the time they are on the phone while driving. They also completed a survey of how often and for how many hours they use which media, including printed material, television and video, computer video, music, nonmusic audio, video games, phone, instant and text messaging, e-mail, the Web and other computer software such as word processing. The results were used to compute an index of media multitasking.

They also completed well-established questionnaires that measure impulsivity and sensation-seeking.

Who Multitasks and Why?

The researchers looked for significant correlations among results of the various tests and questionnaires.

“The people who multitask the most tend to be impulsive, sensation-seeking, overconfident of their multitasking abilities, and they tend to be less capable of multitasking,” says Strayer, summarizing the findings.

The 25 percent of the people who performed best on the OSPAN test of multitasking ability “are the people who are least likely to multitask and are most likely to do one thing at a time,” Sanbonmatsu says.

In contrast, 70 percent of participants said they were above-average at multitasking, and they were more likely to multitask.

“One of the main reasons people multitask is because they think they are good at it,” Sanbonmatsu says. “But our study suggests people rarely are as good at multitasking as they think they are.”

Multitasking ability on the OSPAN was significantly and negatively correlated with actual media multitasking and cell phone use while driving, meaning the people who multitask the most have the least ability to do so.

“If you have people who are multitasking a lot, you might come to the conclusion they are good at multitasking,” Strayer says. “In fact, the more likely they are to do it, the more likely they are to be bad at it.”

Sanbonmatsu adds: “Our data show people multitask because they have difficulty focusing on one task at a time. They get drawn into secondary tasks. … They get bored and want that stimulation of talking while they are driving.”

Study participants reported spending 13 percent of their driving time talking on a cell phone, which Strayer says roughly squares with federal estimates that one in 10 drivers are on the phone at any given time.

Media multitasking – except cell phone use while driving – correlated significantly with impulsivity, particularly the inability to concentrate and acting without thinking. Impulsive people tend to be more reward-oriented and more apt to take risks, so they may be less sensitive to the costs of multitasking, the researchers say.

Multitasking, including cell phone use while driving, correlated significantly with sensation-seeking, indicating some people multitask because it is more stimulating, interesting and challenging, and less boring – even if it may hurt their overall performance.


The Illusion of Multitasking Boosts Performance

Our ability to do things well suffers when we try to complete several tasks at once, but a series of experiments suggests that merely believing that we’re multitasking may boost our performance by making us more engaged in the tasks at hand. The findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

“Multitasking is often a matter of perception or can even be thought of as an illusion,” explains researcher Shalena Srna of the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. “Regardless of whether people actually engage in a single task or multiple tasks, making them perceive this activity as multitasking is beneficial to performance.”

Evidence suggests that humans are actually incapable of paying attention to multiple tasks at the same time – we may think that we’re multitasking, but we’re actually switching back and forth between tasks.

Importantly, our perception of multitasking is flexible. We might perceive sitting in a meeting as a single task, Srna says, but we may actually be engaged in two tasks: listening to the person speaking and taking notes. When we are clothes shopping, we could view it as looking for the best deals or we could see it as simultaneously browsing the clothing racks and comparing competitors’ prices.

Srna and colleagues wanted to find out whether shifting our perceptions about multitasking could change how we engage with the task(s) at hand.

In a lab-based study, 162 participants watched and transcribed an educational video from Animal Planet. Half of the participants believed they’d be completing two tasks, a learning task and a transcribing task the other half believed they’d be completing a single task testing their learning and writing abilities. In other words, both groups completed the exact same activities, the only difference was their belief about how many tasks were completing at one time.

The results were revealing: Participants who believed they were multitasking transcribed more words per second, wrote a greater number of words accurately, and scored better on a comprehension quiz.

The researchers saw a similar pattern of results in an online note-taking study: Participants who believed they were multitasking took higher-quality notes with more words compared with those who believed they single-tasking.

In another online study, the researchers investigated whether a more subtle manipulation would influence perceptions of multitasking. All participants completed two word puzzles presented on screen at the same time. Some saw puzzles that were supposedly part of the same study and were displayed against the same background others saw puzzles that were supposedly part of two different studies and were displayed against different background colors separated by a vertical line.

As expected, participants who saw the puzzles as part of different studies rated the activity as more like multitasking than did those who believed they were completing tasks for a single study. Again, the multitaskers submitted more words per second and more correct words compared with their single-tasking peers. These results replicated across 30 experiments in which participants received monetary rewards based on their performance.

But why would perceiving an activity as multitasking enhance performance? Srna and colleagues hypothesized that it might come down to participants’ engagement in the tasks.

To test this, the researchers conducted lab-based version of the word puzzle study, using eye-tracking technology to measure participants’ pupil dilation as they worked. Not only did participants in the multitasking condition submit a greater number of correct words, they also showed greater average pupil dilation during the activity, suggesting they were exerting more mental effort to stay engaged. Although the multitaskers did switch more often between the puzzles, this did not appear to hamper their performance.

To be clear, these findings do not suggest that we should all start multitasking to improve our performance. Rather, the research indicates that for a given activity, it’s the belief that we’re multitasking that can influence how well we do.

“In today’s society, we constantly feel like we are juggling different activities to meet the demands on our time, both at work and at home. So it feels like multitasking is everywhere,” says Srna. “We find that multitasking is often a matter of perception that helps, rather than harms, engagement and performance. Thus, when we engage in a given activity, construing it as multitasking could help us.”

Coauthors on the research include Rom Y. Schrift of The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and Gal Zauberman at the Yale University School of Management.

This work was supported by the Wharton Risk Center, an Ackoff Doctoral Student Fellowship, the Jay H. Baker Retailing Center, and the Wharton Behavioral Lab.


Women are significantly better at multitasking than men

(Medical Xpress)—Women are better than men at carrying out multiple tasks according to new research from a team of psychologists including researchers from the University of Hertfordshire.

Women can juggle different tasks at the same time, while men find it difficult to do more than one thing at a time are commonly-held beliefs. Despite these notions being widely believed, very little research has even examined such notions. However, new research from the Universities of Hertfordshire, Glasgow and Leeds just published in BMC Psychology provides support for the proposal that women are better at multitasking.

Keith Laws, Professor of Cognitive Neuropsychology at the University of Hertfordshire, said: "We've all heard stories about men not being able to multitask and only being able to focus on one thing at a time. And also stories about women who are able to manage several activities at the same time.

"Through a set of two experiments we measured people's ability to carry out multiple tasks either at the same time or in very quick succession. And the results showed that women had a distinct advantage in both types of multitasking."

In the first experiment, 120 men and 120 women participated in a computer-based challenge designed to measure their task-switching abilities. The participants performed two tasks separately before being asked to perform them both in the same test.

Although men and women performed the separate tasks with the same speed and accuracy, men were slower than women on the mixed tasks. Women's responses were around sixty-one per cent slower, whereas men's responses were seventy-seven per cent slower - suggesting that women have an advantage over men in this type of multitasking.

In the second experiment, a different group of forty-seven men and forty-seven women were tested to measure their response to multitasking in more common real-life tasks.

In a pre-set time limit, they were asked to sketch out how they would attempt a search for a set of lost keys in a field to find restaurant symbols on a map of the city of Philadelphia (to test their everyday attention levels) and solve simple arithmetical questions. The tasks were chosen to test their planning and strategic abilities, their attention control and manipulation of simple information under time pressure.

It was left for participants to decide how to split the time between each task and they were also told to expect a phone call at some point during the test – which they could choose to answer or not. If they answered the phone, they were asked a series of additional general knowledge questions to add to the burden.

In this series of tests, women scored significantly higher on the key search task - suggesting that they are better at tasks which require high-level cognitive control, particularly planning, monitoring and inhibition.

Overall the results of both experiments support the notion that women are better at multitasking than men. However, further research is required to provide explanations as to precisely why women appear to be better multitaskers.


Watch the video: 17 Interesting u0026 Fun Facts About Left Handed People (June 2022).


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