News | September 07, 2008

Neuroscientist Scans Brain For Clues on Best Time to Multitask

September 8, 2008 - In the study "Neural predictors of moment-to-moment fluctuations in cognitive flexibility" published in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Andrew Leber, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at UNH, used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to explain how the brain can predict when people are efficient multitaskers.

"We typically sacrifice efficiency when we multitask. However, there are times when we're quite good at it. Unfortunately, not much has been known about how to predict when these periods of time will occur," Leber said.

While having the study participants multitask, Leber and his colleagues at Yale University monitored their brain activity using fMRI. The research confirmed that multitasking is, on average, inefficient. However, the brain scans allowed the researchers to predict when people would be poor multitaskers and optimal multitaskers.

Most dramatically, the changes in performance were preceded by changes in the participants' brain activity patterns. Higher levels of activity in brain regions such as the basal ganglia, anterior cingulate cortex, prefrontal cortex, and parietal cortex corresponded to better multitasking performance.

"What is so striking about this result is that brain activity predicted multitasking performance before participants even knew whether they would be asked to switch or repeat tasks," Leber said.

Being able to predict when people are in optimal multitasking states raises tantalizing prospects for maximizing productivity in our daily lives, according to Leber. Ideally, we should reserve task juggling for known periods of optimal multitasking while doing repetitive tasks during known periods of poor multitasking.

Yet, while the brain imaging results reflect a critical step in helping us to better schedule our daily routine, they don't provide a truly practical solution quite yet. "Obviously, the average person can't bring an fMRI scanner to work," Leber said. "It may take more time before our research translates to real-world benefits for each of us."

Nevertheless, he believes that the current study represents a promising start.

"The fact that we are able to so rapidly switch from one task to another is no accident of nature, as it reflects an enhanced capacity to flexibly interact with our environment. And, it's to our benefit to exercise this remarkable skill from time to time, although the key might be to keep it in moderation," he said.

The research also may inform scientists' understanding of neurological disorders, such as Parkinson's disease, which is marked by degeneration of the basal ganglia. While it is commonly known that Parkinson's patients experience deficits in controlling movement, multitasking also is adversely affected.

"We've known that multitasking suffers when the physical makeup of the basal ganglia degenerates over time, as in Parkinson's disease," Leber said. "However, the current study shows that even in healthy adults, short-term changes in the basal ganglia also impact multitasking."

This observation opens new potential avenues in studying normal brain functioning to help provide a more complete picture of the disordered functioning in Parkinson's disease.

Leber's co-authors on the study were Marvin Chun, professor of psychology at Yale University, and Nicholas Turk-Browne, a graduate student at Yale. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Source: UNH Medial Relations

For more information: www.unh.edu/news

Related Content

Smartphone Addiction Creates Imbalance in Brain
News | Mobile Devices | January 11, 2018
Researchers have found an imbalance in the brain chemistry of young people addicted to smartphones and the internet,...
Emergency Radiologists See Inner Toll of Opioid Use Disorders

Rates of Imaging Positivity for IV-SUDs Complications. Image courtesy of Efren J. Flores, M.D.

News | Clinical Study | January 11, 2018
January 11, 2018 – Emergency radiologists are seeing a high prevalence of patients with complications related to opio
Study Finds No Evidence that Gadolinium Causes Neurologic Harm

MR images through, A, C, E, basal ganglia and, B, D, F, posterior fossa at level of dentate nucleus. Images are shown for, A, B, control group patient 4, and the, C, D, first and, E, F, last examinations performed in contrast group patient 13. Regions of interest used in quantification of signal intensity are shown as dashed lines for globus pallidus (green), thalamus (blue), dentate nucleus (yellow), and pons (red).

News | Contrast Media | January 11, 2018
January 11, 2018 — There is no evidence that accumulation in the brain of the element gadolinium speeds cognitive dec
Weight Loss Through Exercise Alone Does Not Protect Knees
News | Orthopedic Imaging | January 11, 2018
January 11, 2018 – Obese people who lose a substantial amount of weight can significantly slow down the degeneration
Neurofeedback Shows Promise in Treating Tinnitus

The standard approach to fMRI neurofeedback. Image courtesy of Matthew Sherwood, Ph.D.

News | Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) | January 11, 2018
January 11, 2018 — Researchers using...
Male Triathletes May Be Putting Their Heart Health at Risk
News | Cardiac Imaging | January 09, 2018
Competitive male triathletes face a higher risk of a potentially harmful heart condition called myocardial fibrosis,...
State-of-the-Art MRI Technology Bypasses Need for Biopsy
News | Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) | January 09, 2018
January 9, 2018 – The most common type of tumor found in the kidney is generally quite small (less than 1.5 in).
New Studies Show Brain Impact of Youth Football
News | Neuro Imaging | January 09, 2018
School-age football players with a history of concussion and high impact exposure undergo brain changes after one...
The new GE Healthcare Air Technology MRI coil design is 60 percent lighter than conventional coils, provides more flexibility and conforms to a patient’s anatomy like a blanket. The technology was unveiled at RSNA 2017 in late November.

The new GE Healthcare Air Technology MRI coil design is 60 percent lighter than conventional coils, provides more flexibility and conforms to a patient’s anatomy like a blanket. The technology was unveiled at RSNA 2017 in late November.

Feature | January 08, 2018 | Dave Fornell
Here is the list of the most popular articles and videos on the Imaging Technology News (ITN) magazine website from t
WEBINAR: Neuroimaging from a Clinical Perspective, sponsored by Philips Healthcare. How to better manage your MRI department.
Webinar | Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) | January 08, 2018
The CME credit webinar "Neuroimaging from a Clinical Perspective," will explain how imaging departments can become mo
Overlay Init