Even if we think we can multi-task, most of us can’t, David Strayer, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Utah, tells Psychology Today. “Our brains don’t do two things at once; instead, we rapidly switch between tasks, putting heavy burdens on attention, memory and focus,” the article notes. “Talking on a cellphone while driving (perhaps the most ubiquitous type of multi-tasking) leaves people as cognitively impaired as if they’d had two or three drinks,” Strayer’s studies have found.
But a small group of people whom Strayer calls “supertaskers” function differently. Rather than get overwhelmed, they actually did better in his studies when asked to do more than two things at once. Strayer theorizes that the ability to “supertask” may involve a blend of “attention, memory and resistance to distractions.”
The better you are at ignoring distractions, the more adept you are at managing multiple streams of information without making errors, neurologist and neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley notes in the article. While Gazzaley thinks some “supertasker” traits could be genetic, his research suggests that it might be possible to learn some of the skills, such as the ability to ignore distractions. One way to accomplish that: Try focusing on doing one thing at a time — single-tasking — without being distracted. That could be key to improving your cognitive control.
At the beginning of “Questioning Darwin,” a new documentary by British director Antony Thomas, a portrait of Charles Darwin metamorphoses into a picture of a bearded monkey. It’s a pretty disturbing beginning for a film examining the fervent opposition of Christian creationists to Darwin’s theory of evolution. The film cites a 2012 Gallup poll showing 46 percent of Americans believe the literal truth of the Bible’s account of a six-day creation; then it shows a matter-of-fact young pastor saying that if he found a Bible passage saying two plus two equals five, “I would believe it, accept it as true, and then do my best to work it out and understand it.”
The film alternates interviews with creationists and glimpses of evangelical services with a reconstruction of how Darwin came to his theory, almost reluctantly, after years of travel and study. Quoting his letters, it describes the dread as well as the awe Darwin felt as he observed the magnificence and violence of nature. “I cannot see evidence of design and beneficence on all sides of us,” he wrote. When he was finally willing to acknowledge his growing belief that “species are not immutable,” he added, “it is like confessing a murder.” “What he did was worse than murder,” a woman from a biblical ministry says.
The documentary will air Monday at 9 on HBO, and will be repeated on HBO2 at 8 p.m. on Feb. 12, Darwin’s birthday.