Humans Cannot Use a Cellphone and Multitask: A Study on Human Attention

Think about your day. How much time do you spend on your cellphone? If you’re like most of us technology is progressing from a helpful supplement into a necessity. So why is this an issue? What was the person you passed on the street today wearing? Chances are you can’t answer this, because your attention was on your phone. You might want to argue that you can multitask and use your phone and walk or do many other things at once, but sadly this isn’t the case.

People cannot completely multitask, and to think one could is dangerous. Our cognitive processing is decreased to about only 60 percent on average when we attempt to multitask. This is due to our brains having to constantly switch between active sets of neurons. Think of the human brain as a circuit breaker, every circuit is a different stimulus. When you want to place your attention on something you have to turn on the circuit, but you can only turn on so many or you will trip the breaker or in other words not be able to recall anything.

On top of this, multitaskers are training their minds to switch so rapidly they are actually losing the ability to tune out distractions or stimuli. The lack of early selection in these people is actually being argued to be a cause of ADD. ADD is Attention Deficit Disorder, which can be rudimentarily defined as the lack of ability to focus on one thing for too long, and is becoming more prevalent in today’s society. There is even talk of ADD is not a real disease. This new hypothesis is based off of more elaborate understanding of how the brain attends to stimuli; it is hypothesized that ADD is actually just a lack of early selection, which is the first of the “filters” stimuli go through in the brain. This lack of function comes from lack of use caused by trying to attend more stimuli than capable at one time.

Human attention works by processing all of our sensory inputs and suppressing those that we aren’t focusing on. I currently playing music as I type this article; while I could tell you there is music playing I could not tell you what the words are. This is how your brain suppresses stimuli, it allows for you to be aware of a stimuli but not of the finer details. Think of attention as a finite resource you can spread some out here and there but once it is all occupied you need to take it and apply it to something else and abandon something you were already giving attentio.

In the Invisible Gorilla Experiment, first preformed by Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris; participants are told to watch a video and count the number of times a ball is passed between a group of moving people, and at some point in the video a gorilla walks across the background and even pounds his chest. The experiment sets out to show that when focusing intently on something which requires a significant amount of attention, like a ball being passed between people moving in a circle, less relevant are ignored. So when a gorilla enters the screen and leaves it tends to go unnoticed.

There was a study where 300 students from middle school, high school, and college were observed for 15 minutes during their normal studies. The results were frightening; they were only able to focus for about 3 minutes at a time. So what does this mean? Their attention was somewhere else, most of the time on cellphones. So away from the general issue of limited attention, and getting more specific into the fact that people are losing their ability to control where their attention goes.

We are almost trained to drop everything and see what our phone is going off about. We have all essentially preformed Pavlovian conditioning on ourselves. Your phone rings you check it you get a funny text from a friend or a sweet text from a significant other> your brain releases dopamine>you become happy.

This process is repeated enough and eventually you hear your phone ring and you begin to get excited with out even knowing what it rang for or who from. This is detrimental to our attention; our cellphones are warranting more of our attention than any other single thing, which means when it comes to remembering things chances are you’ll remember that cute text but not what the professor said during lecture as you were reading it.

Driving is one of the most common places where misplaced attention is seen. Figures shows a negative correlation between the age of a person and the likelihood of getting into an automobile accident due to distracted driving. Consider this scenerio; you are driving you get a text, driving is a pretty automatic action at this point and you decided to check your phone: you look at it read the message and decide you’re going to send a quick reply; first you look up okay road seems all clear so you go ahead and start typing, next thing you know you’re driving off the road.

Why? Because you must be looking at the curve of the road for your brain to make the correct calculations to safely maneuver the turn. Okay you’re not a big cell phone person so you’re in the clear right? Wrong, radio in a car is just as dangerous. Your favorite song comes on the radio so you and your buddy next to you begin singing obnoxiously and you lose your attention on the road and rear end someone.

The issue with the research is that it is very general, and a lot of people like to think they are better than the general public. So when trying to apply laws based on the research for safety plenty of people will ignore it thinking they are capable because they are better than the norm. This results in an increase of accidents involving attention misplacement. My writing goals this time: To fix problems addressed in reviews, as well as change some wording and formatting of my paper to ultimately strengthen it.

Work Citied

  1. Multitasking May Not Mean Higher Productivity. (2009). Talk of the Nation, National Public Radio. Found online at storyId=112334449
  2. American Psychological Association. (2006). Multitasking: Switching costs. Found online at
  3. Attention Alert: A Study on Distraction Reveals Some Surprises. (n.d.). Retrieved October 6, 2014.
  4. ADHD Not a Real Disease, Says Leading Neuroscientist. (n.d.). Retrieved October 6, 2014.
  5. Car Accident. (n.d.). Retrieved October 7, 2014.

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