Occasionally when I am writing these news items up I will stop, even mid-sentence, to check my email or to visit a website. I am not always sure why I multitask like this but researchers at Ohio State University have done a study and believe they know why. People multitask to emotionally feel better, by introducing entertainment to the activity. Unfortunately multitasking usually means ones cognitive needs are not satisfied.
The study had 32 students record their daily activities for four weeks. Along with reporting how much time they spent on any task and what they were doing, the subjects also kept track of how important it was for them to do the activity and how successful they felt they were at completing the task. The researchers found that while multitasking impaired the students' abilities, they felt better about how they did because of the emotional high from the entertainment. This is ironic though because the students were multitasking because they thought it would help them do better.
The researchers also identified the power of habit with multitasking. As people get more use to multitasking and the sense of gratification it gives, they will multitask more in the future. This cycle could potentially have long-term impacts on how people perform cognitive tasks, which is what future studies will have to look into.