Tweeting Can Hurt Your Brain

Well, not really.  It's not the tweeting that does it, but the distraction -- and disruption -- it brings to your day.  And the Instagraming, Facebooking, iTubing, Pinteresting, etc.

According to Bob Sullivan at The New York Times, each time our cell phone rings, or a text tings, or an email pops up on the screen, it interrupts the task we're working on. He noted that Gloria Mark, of the University of California, Irvine, found that "it takes an average of 25 minutes to return to the original task after an interruption." But worse, no one really knows the quality of work "done during these periods of rapid toggling."

And what's been found to have an even bigger effect on disruption is the anticipation that a call or email or text might come in.

Sullivan and his staff conducted three tests on volunteers sitting in labs to perform a cognitive skills test.  One group simply completed the test but the second group was interrupted while the third was told it might be. The results were, well, "truly dismal," as Sullivan puts it.

The interrupted group, as expected, made many mistakes, far more than was anticipated, answering correctly 20% fewer times than the uninterrupted group, while the group anticipating the interruption (and also, being interrupted) were 20% dumber, "enough to turn a B-minus student (80 percent) into a failure (62 percent)," Sullivan reported.

But on being tested a second time, all the participants in each group improved, possibly resulting from learning from their mistakes and adapting, Sullivan said, as humans do.

Interestingly, next time you're "toddling" between tweeting and emailing and taking a call, think of yourself as a "sucker for irrelevancy." That's what Clifford Nass, a Stanford sociologist who conducted some of the first tests on multitasking, told Sullivan about "those who can’t resist the lure of doing two things at once."

Sullivan concluded that there's some evidence "that we’re not just suckers for that new text message, or addicted to it; it’s actually robbing us of brain power, too."

So think about all the brain cells leaking away the next time you're tempted to tweet while you're talking on your cell to your spouse, scanning your emails and checking what your friends did over the weekend, like me, without you.


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