Why Multitasking Is a Bad Idea

Science Fields

Can you name anyone who does not check their phone during a lecture or a meeting? For how long can you stay on task without checking your social media account or watch cat videos on your laptop?

Electronic devices have become such an indispensable part of our lives that using them while running errands or chatting with a friend has become second nature to us. In a way, we have normalized multitasking. We believe we can do it all but at what cost?

Scientific studies show that when attention is divided between tasks, retention of information from both tasks is limited. In other words, people remember and learn less from both tasks. While the loss of information may not seem like much in everyday life, it is crucial for college students to retain the material they learn in class to achieve success in their academic careers.

Divided attention in class

A new study published in Educational Psychology found that using electronic devices such as phones, tablets and laptops in lectures disrupts learning. The purpose of the study was to examine the effects of divided attention on students’ academic performance assessed through in-lecture quizzes and final exams.

118 students from Rutgers University participated in the study. The students attended one of two sections of an upper-level cognitive psychology course that was taught by the same instructor back-to-back. While all electronic devices were prohibited in half of the lectures, they were allowed in the other half. For those in Section 1, device use was prohibited on odd-numbered lessons and on even-numbered lessons for Section 2.


Electronic device use lowered scores on final exams by 5%. No significant effect was observed for comprehension tests given in lectures. Moreover, students who did not use electronic devices during lectures when it was allowed also performed poorly on the final exam.

The researchers, Arnold Glass and Mengxue Kang found that “divided attention reduced long-term retention of the classroom lecture, which impaired subsequent unit exam and final exam performance.” They argue that multitaskers might not be aware of the negative effects of using electronic devices in class if they do not notice any errors on immediate tasks. Yet, these effects present themselves in tasks that assess long-term retention of information.

So if you find yourself frequently multitasking, do not assume that you are retaining everything from your experience. If you are performing a task that you deem as important and valuable, try to give your undivided attention to it. This way, you will benefit the most from that experience in the long run.


  • 1. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/01443410.2018.1489046