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Multitasking Has Its Limits
Date:4/15/2010

Study shows brain can only perform two complicated jobs at one time

THURSDAY, April 15 (HealthDay News) -- For those who think they can juggle several tasks at once with ease, new research from France suggests that humans may not be able to perform more than two complicated jobs at one time.

That doesn't mean you can't walk and chew gum simultaneously, but it probably means you can't talk about astrophysics on the phone while doing your taxes. And you definitely can't add solving calculus equations to the mix, at least if you want to perform any of these tasks with some proficiency.

"They are suggesting that you can only handle two things at once, but they're cognitively demanding tasks," said Mark Mapstone, an associate professor of neurology at the University of Rochester Medical Center in Rochester, N.Y.

The reason: The human brain has two lobes that divide the responsibility equally when two tasks are being carried out at the same time.

"Three-tasking [overwhelms] the capacity of human frontal function. Dual-tasking is alright," explained study co-author Etienne Koechlin, whose research appears in the April 15 online issue of Science. "Human higher cognition is dual in essence, which can explain why people like binary choice and have difficulties in multiple choices [people can easily switch back and forth between two options before making a decision, but not across three alternatives]."

The results could eventually have some real-world applications.

"Frontal lobe function is the most fragile human brain function, and is altered in aging and impaired in most neuropsychiatric diseases [schizophrenia, autism, dementia, depression]," said Koechlin, a professor with the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research in Paris. "Understanding how the frontal lobe function works is fundamental to understanding cognitive aging and the nature of neuropsychiatric mental alt
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