The internet may be the most comprehensive source of information ever created but its also the biggest distraction. Set out to find an answer on the web and its all too easy to find yourself flitting between multiple tabs, wondering how you aimed up on a page so apparently irrelevant to the topic you started on.
Past research has shown that we have a very limited capacity to perform two or more chores at the same day and brainpower suffers when we try. But my new analyze suggests that some people are better at multitasking online than others. Being able to switch between multiple web pages and successfully find what you want all comes down to how good your working memory is.
Working memory is the part of the brain responsible for the storage and processing of information, decision making, and planning. It is a matter of “members attention”, quality, and sum of information that is stored and processed in both the short and long-term memory. Many psychologists describe working memory as the ability to retain a specific amount of information while intervening with other info or tasks.
Previous surveys have suggested that working memory plays an important role in multitasking. For instance, one study demonstrated interruptions reduced peoples they are able to multitask. This indicates our working memory can only hold a limited amount of information at any one time, restriction our capacity to think about multiple things at once.
My new research focuses on , among other things, how peoples different levels of working memory influence their multitasking behaviour while utilizing the web. I assessed the working memory of 30 students employing an automated operation span exam that asked them to remember a series of written characters while solving maths topics. I then asked them to use the web to research four topics of their choice, two they had prior knowledge of and two they didnt. This was particularly important as research has shown that having prior knowledge of a subject means you can analyze it with less attempt from your working memory.
I found that participants with high working memory switched between their information topics and web search results more often than those with low running memory. This seemed to enable them to test and retest different strategies for receiving the answers they wanted. This means that they were able to diverts more of their attention between different tasks.
The people with high running memory also reported that they were able to coordinate existing and new knowledge, multiple topics and enter into negotiations with interruptions more easily. And they had a better grasp of trying different strategies, such as use different search engines, formulating search queries, evaluating webpages and saving results.
Whats more, those with low working memory capability believed the previously unfamiliar topics they were researching became more complex as they went on. They also reported that they could not produce more strategies to complete the chore or evaluate and magistrate the content of the webpages they were looking at in the same way as they did for the topics they had prior knowledge.
This research corroborates previous analyzes that have suggested that people with low running memories have more limited abilities to keep their attention on related information. More specifically, it also been shown that people with low working memory cannot easily give their attention to different pieces of information in a way that would allow them to effectively multitask. This is especially true for topics they have no prior knowledge of.
What all this means is that people with low running memory abilities probably dont find multitasking as easy as they would like. Fortunately, there are ways to expand your working memory capability through practice and exert. For example, Cogmed Working Memory Training involves completing undertakings such as remembering visual sequences for rewards, and has been linked with enhancements in running memory in children and adults.
But technology has the greatest impact when it is designed around its users abilities and limitations not when people “re going to have to” train themselves to use it. For instance, elderly people or people with cognitive impairments such as dementia often consider a decline in their working memory. My research shows that these people will have to work harder when they search for informed on the web, especially for topics that have no prior knowledge of. Understanding this could help lead to better website or browser designs for these groups, and helps to build their confidence online.