The folks in Duke’s Visual Cognition Lab who study how well airport baggage screeners actually see things and whether Nike Strobe eyewear may help sports performance have some words of wisdom for heavy multitaskers:   Try putting a few things aside and focusing a bit!

Multidevice multitasking can make you distractable... or is it the other way around? (image: iStock)

In a paper published online shortly before the holidays, the group shows that “heavy media multitaskers,” the people who might have Twitter, Facebook and Gmail windows open simultaneously on their laps while trying to watch the playoff game and listen to their iPod, are overwhelmed by a lot of irrelevant details.

In a lab experiment that bombarded both heavy and light media multitaskers with stimuli and asked them to focus on particular details, they found that the light multitaskers were better able to filter and prioritize to keep their eyes on the prize. The heavy multitaskers, not so much.

“The heavy media multitaskers tended to look at more of the irrelevant things,” said Matthew S. Cain, a postdoctoral fellow in the group, who’s hair tends to be a color not found in nature.  “Heavy media multitaskers don’t use information about what they can ignore to improve their performance.”

“My guess is that they’re heavy multitaskers because they’re distracted,” Cain says.

The paper appears online in Perception.

CITATION:  “Distractor filtering in media multitaskers,” Cain M S, Mitroff S R. Perception, online Nov. 16, 2011. DOI: 10.1068/p70172011,