Seriously, you're not the master multitasker you might imagine. No matter how smart you think you are, your brain is not built for doing lots of things at the same time.
But don't worry, most humans are in the same boat. The latest in a series of studies that show humans are crap at multitasking reports a "unified bottleneck" in the brain that prevents you from focusing on multiple tasks, even if those tasks seem to be totally different in nature.
In the study, published in the August 16 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers looked at the brain's ability to deal with "encoding" processes, which involve recognising new information and incorporating it into your world. They also looked at how study subjects reacted to stimuli and made decisions, a brain process knowns as "response selection."
Even though these situations are quite different, the researchers found by examining fMRIs of study subjects that the brain had a tough time dealing with the two types of tasks at once.
When I was a kid, my parents wouldn't let me listen to the radio and watch TV at the same time. I'm not sure why I wanted to do that, or why they were so against it (and yes, I lived in a time when people "listened to the radio"). So once when I stayed with my grandparents who let me do anything I wanted, I took the opportunity to try experiencing the forbidden media combination. My grandfather looked at me like I was a moron, and I had to admit it wasn't at all the exciting and liberating experience I had imagined. In fact, it was completely unpleasant. But somehow I still think I can write an email while talking on the phone while feeding my cat. Maybe one of these days I'll give up and admit that my parents are always freaking right. And that I, like most humans, cannot multitask. [Ars Technica]