What Multitasking Does to Your Brain (and Driving Anxiety)


If your driving fears and driving anxiety feel like they’re at an all-time high after a day of attempting to complete numerous tasks all at the same time, you may be able to blame the increased angst on multitasking. While multitasking used to be the hottest craze for getting things done, its reputation is slowly slipping into the gutter. That’s because study after study continue to show that it can actually do more harm than good.

Multitasking and Brain Activity

New research out of Finland’s Aalto University specifically looked at the effects of multitasking on brain activity, hoping to clarify why multitasking can nosedive productivity by as much as 40 percent. The study found regularly changing tasks again and again actually interferes with brain activity.

Study participants were shown short segments of three popular movies, while researchers measured different brain areas of the participants using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). When participants were shown film segments that lasted about 50 seconds each, the continuity of brain activity became fragmented.

Researchers found brain areas functioned much more smoothly when participants were shown film segments that lasted at least 6.5 minutes each.

Four areas of the brain are associated with combining individual events into coherent event sequences, or complete entities. And those four brain areas are able to function more efficiently when the regions tend to one task at a time.

Multitasking Side Effects

In addition to fragmenting brain activity, multitasking can also be responsible for making people feel inadequate. Diving into several tasks at once can make people feel busy and productive, but when they notice that not much is actually getting done, they can feel like they’re failing.

Concentration levels also falter, resulting in stress. And ongoing stress can hinder memory and thinking – while exacerbating driving anxiety and driving fears. In a nutshell, multitasking has been associated with:

  • Decrease in productivity
  • Reduction in work quality
  • Feelings of inadequacy
  • Wasted time
  • Increase in stress

 More on Stress

Stress is going to crop up whenever demands exceed abilities, HealthDay notes, and multitasking is a prime example of excessive demands. When the brain is faced with such impossible demands, its automatic reaction is to send out a rush of adrenaline and other stress hormones. These hormones may give you a burst of energy, but they still can’t conquer multitasking.

If multitasking and its related stress continue over an extended period of time, the overload of stress hormones can put a major strain on the body, putting your overall health at risk. Job-related stress has been associated with sleep issues, stomach problems and headaches for the short term. Keep it up for the long term and you can be plagued with chronic back pain, depression and heart disease.

The fix for all of this, of course, is to focus on doing one thing at a time. If your boss hands you a list of 12 tasks that need to be done pronto, by all means do them. But do them one at a time, dedicating your full brainpower to the single task at hand. Your brain will thank you. Your body will thank you. And your driving fears are not as likely to rev up into the highest gear due to the inevitable multitasking stress.


Photo Credit: comomejorar Flickr via Compfight cc