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Why Multitasking Is Bad for Your Brain

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Have you ever felt that you get less done when you multitask? You’re not imagining things. In fact, Larry Kim, founder and chief technology officer of Boston-based online marketing company Wordstream, points out in an article for Observer that you’re actually hurting your brain by juggling several undertakings at once. 

Since we aren’t wired to focus on more than one thing at a time, cramming multiple tasks onto your to-do list will actually slow down your cognitive processing. You’re unable to organize your thoughts or filter out unnecessary information. As a result, your efficiency plummets—and so does the quality of your work. In fact, one study at the University of London revealed that subjects who multitasked while performing brain-intensive tasks demonstrated IQ drops similar to people who are sleep-deprived or smoke marijuana. Still not convinced? Multitasking is also linked to increased cortisol production, a stress hormone that leaves us feeling tired when we need energy to concentrate [PDF]. 

Once we start multitasking, it’s hard to stop. Each time we complete a small task—sending an email, tweeting, etc.—our brains are blasted with a dose of the reward hormone dopamine. It feels good, which means we’re likely to keep bouncing back and forth between tiny, unimportant goals without getting anything major done. And even if we’ve set aside time to delve into a time-consuming project, the mere knowledge of a new email or text lurking in our inboxes can keep us distracted. According to some research, this constant anticipation can actually lower our IQ by as much as 10 points.

One study from the University of Sussex in the UK indicates that forms of multitasking can cause cognitive damage, Kim warns. MRI scans showed that subjects who consumed multiple media forms at once had less brain density in the anterior cingulate cortex, the region associated with empathy and emotional control. Scientists still haven't concluded whether or not multitasking is permanently harming our brains. However, there's overwhelming evidence that it harms our lives.

How can we break this insidious cycle and form new habits? “Protect yourself from the multitasking mental massacre by establishing an e-mail checking schedule,” Kim advises. “Commit yourself to checking emails only three times a day (maybe when you get in to work in the morning, at lunch time, and before leaving work at the end of the day). Turn off texting notifications and choose specific times to check your phone as well.” This way, you can buckle down and focus on the things that really matter.

[h/t Observer]

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Kohske Takahashi, i-Perception (2017)
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Can You Figure Out This Newly Discovered Optical Illusion?
Kohske Takahashi, i-Perception (2017)
Kohske Takahashi, i-Perception (2017)

Ready to have your mind boggled? Take a look at the image above. What shape are the lines? Do they look like curves, or zigzags?

The image, spotted by Digg, is a new type of optical illusion published in the aptly named journal i-Perception. Discovered by Japanese psychologist Kohske Takahashi, it’s called the “curvature blindness illusion,” because—spoiler—the contrast of the lines against the gray background makes our eye see some of the lines as zigzags when, in fact, they’re all smooth curves.

The illusion relies on a few different factors, according to the three experiments Takahashi conducted. For it to work, the lines have to change contrast just at or after the peak of the curve, reversing the contrast against the background. You’ll notice that the zigzags only appear against the gray section of the background, and even against that gray background, not every line looks angled. The lines that look curvy change contrast midway between the peaks and the valleys of the line, whereas the lines that look like they contain sharp angles change contrast right at the peak and valley. The curve has to be relatively gentle, too.

Go ahead, stare at it for a while.

[h/t Digg]

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Vivid Imagery Makes Poetry More Pleasurable, According to Psychologists
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Contrary to what English teachers led us to believe, most readers don’t judge poetry based on factors like alliteration and rhyme. In fact, a new study published in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts suggests that vivid imagery (i.e. sense-evoking description) is what makes a poem compelling, according to Smithsonian.

To determine why some poetic works are aesthetically pleasing while others are less so, researchers from New York University and the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics in Frankfurt, Germany, had more than 400 online volunteers read and rate 111 haikus and 16 sonnets. Participants answered questions about each one, including how vivid its imagery was, whether it was relaxing or stimulating, how aesthetically pleasing they found it, and whether its content was positive or negative.

Not surprisingly, taste varied among subjects. But researchers did find, overall, that poems containing colorful imagery were typically perceived as more pleasurable. (For example, one favorite work among subjects described flowers as blooming and spreading like fire.) Emotional valence—a poem's emotional impact—also played a smaller role, with readers ranking positive poems as more appealing than negative ones. Poems that received low rankings were typically negative, and lacked vivid imagery.

Researchers think that vivid poems might also be more interesting ones, which could explain their popularity in this particular study. In the future, they hope to use similar methodology to investigate factors that might influence our enjoyment of music, literature, and movies.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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