« Steven Pinker on consciousness | Main | Depressing political stories »

January 31, 2007

Multi-tasking and concentration

They say that women are better at multi-tasking, while men are better at concentrating on one task at a time. I don't know if this is true. I do know that I can yell at my dad from less than 10 feet away, and he won't hear me, because he's concentrating. And I know that my mother can interrupt what I'm saying to her by leaving the room, making a phone call or commenting on what the dog is doing, because she's multi-tasking.

I was thinking about this in a macro-economics class this morning. While I was thinking about this, I was also reading the lecture notes that had been printed out from the web, listening to the lecturer and glancing at the blackboard every once in a while, reading an article about the future of European economics in a globalized world, watching my friend draw a cartoon and having a written discussion with my friend about whether or not he should post this cartoon on the web, and whether or not China/India's economic growth really matters all that much. Multi-tasking? Definitely. Concentrating? I think so.

I have this theory that if my brain isn't busy enough, it will start searching for something to do. If I'm reading something, I'll wonder what my bachelor thesis should be about, or what I should be doing for the student government this week. In class, I start writing blog entries in my head. In a conversation, I "concentrate" on what the other person is saying, but that's only because part of my brain is busy planning the response. But if I turn on some music when I read, sit next to a window with an interesting view or read in a café where there is some background noise, it's actually easier to concentrate.

I can't read two texts at the same time (although switching between an article, a written conversation and a description of an economic model seems to work), and it's best if I'm not listening to lyrics while I read, but noise doesn't break my conversation. If I do manage to get my dad's attention when he's concentrating, I know it will take him a while to get back to work. The friend mentioned above is furious at people who bring their laptops to the library, because keyboards are apparently noisy. I seriously hadn't noticed.

This brings me to another question: am I breaking other people's concentration? I believe that the best approach to macro would be for me to go to lectures, bring a newspaper and sit next to the friend who draws cartoons. But if this annoys other people, people who have a different way of concentrating than I do, then I don't want to be selfish. I can read the lecture notes some other time... maybe in development economics class...

Posted by Julie at January 31, 2007 7:24 PM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:


Multitasking is all about using different parts of the brain simultaniously. It's much easier to sing a song while showering, than writing a mail while dictating another one. What I find hard to understand, is some women's ability to conversate to several other women about different subjects at the same time.

Posted by: Rambukk at February 1, 2007 7:06 AM