Multi-Task for Bottlenecked Brain

eweber   November 14, 2008   12 Comments

If your smarts slow down or stop ticking at times, you may be pushing in directions that intelligence simply cannot go.  Your brain comes equipped with a neural bottleneck that thwarts multi-tasking … according to researchers at Vanderbilt University. So what?

What does that say about people who tend to do many things at once? Neuroscientists Paul E. Dux and René Marois found that when we handle even two things at once, the brain slows down.

It would seem that with 100 billion neurons processing information at rates of up to a thousand times a second, a person could do two tasks at once, without a problem. Not so.

The problem with too much information creates an attention bottleneck that leaves you unable to sleep but feeling exhausted and overwhelmed according to researchers Nuno Sousa and others.

Researchers described a central “bottleneck” that exists in the brain and preventmultitask.gifs people from doing two things at once. Check out the results published in the Dec. 21 issue of Neuron. Could this research contribute to a ban of cell phone use while driving.

Scientists found that that a central bottleneck is created by inability of the lateral frontal and pre-frontal cortex, and also by  your  superior frontal cortex –  to process two tasks at the same time. How many are you trying to juggle?

Because of the hard data here,  neither Marois nor Dux use their cell phones while driving. In fact they report that dual-task slow down can literally lose the driver up to a second, and that could create a crash when faster response times are needed to make a critical judgment. Yikes!

My question is, what does this research say about communicating with passengers while we drive? What do you think?

12 thoughts on “Multi-Task for Bottlenecked Brain

  1. eweber Post author

    Fred, the cool thing on your side here – is that the brain rewires daily for more of what we are learning. You may have rebooted past the normal muti-tasking weakness that ordinary brains suffer:-) You sound like one busy guy!!!!

  2. rummuser

    Just a major family dispute while I was driving! I was participating in the arguments and for emphasis had just turned to look at the person I was addressing and the rest, as they say is history!

    The good outcome of it was that the family dispute went into the back burner and got solved amicably.

    rummusers last blog post..Movie Scenes That Have Stayed With Me.

  3. Dean

    from the Amazon page for the book “Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What is Says About Us) …

    “Q: You say that, “For most of us who are not brain surgeons, driving is probably the most complex everyday thing we do in our lives.” How so?
    A: Researchers have estimated there are anywhere from 1500 to 2500 discrete skills and activities we undertake while driving. Even the simplest thing — shifting gears — is a decision-making process consuming what is called “cognitive workload.” We’re operating heavy machinery at speeds beyond our long evolutionary history, absorbing (and discarding) huge amounts of information, and having to make snap decisions — often based on limited situational awareness, guesses about what others are going to do, or a hazy knowledge of the actual traffic law. It took years of research, for example, by some of the country’s top robotics researchers, to create expensive, sophisticated self-driving “autonomous vehicles” that are basically mediocre beginning drivers that you’d never want to let loose in everyday traffic. When we forget that driving isn’t necessarily as easy as it seems to be, we get into trouble.”

    This would suggest that we should stick to driving when we are driving … always.

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