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Scientists Identify Rare 'Supertaskers,' And You're Not One of Them

Scientists Identify Rare

There's plenty of anecdotal and scientific evidence that should tell you that driving while using your cell phone is pretty dumb. Yet plenty of you continue to do so, and freely admit to it, too. We can only assume that you all believe you belong to a sect of individuals researchers have dubbed "supertaskers."

A new study being released in the Psychonomic Bulletin and Review (.PDF) suggests that there is a small subset of the population who actually do excel at multitasking. In a sample group of 200 subjects, researchers found five individuals who were just as adept at simultaneously performing multiple tasks as they were individual ones. Subjects were asked to drive a 30-mile course in a simulator while performing a test of memory skills such as basic true/false math problems and recalling repeated words. These tasks were also performed one at a time, in order to set a baseline for performance. In 195 of the cases, reaction time in the simulator went up by roughly 20-percent and performance on the memory test took a similar nosedive. But five people saw no change in their scores.

Researchers performed additional tests with new subjects, and eventually discovered that roughly 2.5-percent of the population are "supertaskers." Scientists believe the rarity of people who have such a useful skill is due to one of two reasons: multitasking hasn't been necessary until fairly recently, and evolution hasn't had a chance to work its magic yet; or, there may be unidentified downsides to being wired for multitasking, making it an evolutionary liability.

As for you, dear reader, you should still put the phone down, since chances are that you, yes you, are not a supertasker. As you well know, 2.5-percent is an exceptionally small number, and odds are that you're not part of the club. [From: Ars Technica and New York Times]

Tags: brain, multitasking, psychology, research, supertaskers, textingwhiledriving