Multi-tasking – keeping all those plates spinning – is damaging our brains. We’re not as smart as we think we are when we do this: it reduces our cognitive performance and is more damaging to important nerve centres than smoking pot.
Multi-tasking increases stress levels and can send memories to the wrong part of the brain for storage, making them harder to retrieve. It rapidly deletes nutrients in our brains, making us feel exhausted. It can make us impulsive and aggressive. Multi-tasking makes decision making harder and less reliable.
These are the findings of Daniel J Levitin, PhD, FRSC, an American cognitive psychologist, neuroscientist, best-selling author and musician. (Author of ‘Your Brain on Music.’)
And emails, Facebook and Twitter checking are neural addictions. They give us ‘reward hormones’ that can make us so addicted we can become like the rats in a famous experiment who kept pressing a lever that stimulated the ‘reward’ part of the brain to the exclusion of everything else, even food and sex, until they starved themselves to death.
Each time we send an email we feel we’ve accomoplished something, and our brain gets a dollop of reward hormones. Each time we check Twitter or Facebook, we encounter something novel and feel more connected socially and get another dollop of reward hormones. But remember, it is the dumb, novelty-seeking portion of the brain driving the limbic system that induces this feeling of pleasure, not the planning, scheduling, higher-level thought centres in the prefrontal cortex.
‘Make no mistake: email-, Facebook- and Twitter-checking constitute a neural addiction, ‘ says Dr Levitin’s in his new book, The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, published by Viking (£20).
It reflects the theme of the book, ‘The Shallows’, by Nicholas Carr, but Levintin’s exposition is larger and from a deeper scientific background. Carr’s book examined one of the most important debates of our time: As we enjoy the Net’s bounties, are we sacrificing our ability to read and think deeply?
Worse, are we actually damaging our brains? Do we need to go back to ‘the old ways’ and, in today’s world, are we able to do so?
Does the Bible have anything to say about our brains? It refers to the effects of negative emotions in Ephesians 4:8, which is about renewing the spirit of the mind, and tells us to dwell specifically on certain things – ‘whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things,’ Philippians 4:8.
The email and social media weren’t around in those days, of course. Can we change our ways now?