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EPISODE 5: MULTITASKING

Are you an exceptional multitasker—or are you just lying to yourself?

  • Michael Tabb
By Michael Tabb

Video journalist

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

This story is part of an ongoing series on Exceptional Humans and the scientists studying them to help us all benefit from their superhuman abilities.

Dr. David Strayer has spent decades demonstrating how much people overestimate their ability to multitask. As a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Utah, much of his research has focused on distracted driving, and how tasks as simple as talking on the phone can impair you as much as alcohol.

But about a decade ago, Strayer discovered some people aren’t so easily distracted: about 2-3% of the population has a startling ability to do multiple things at once, without their performance suffering at either task. Strayer calls them “supertaskers.” He created an online quiz where you can discover if you’re a supertasker, too.

He believes this ability is genetic, not trained. But some of his colleagues say it is possible to improve at specific kinds of mental juggling, and maybe even at multitasking in general. They’ve got a few different ideas about how to do it, from using technology to alter our brains, to modifying our technology to meet our brains halfway.

In episode five of our video series Exceptional Humans, we search for supertaskers in our own office, to see how the Quartz staff compares to the general public. We ended up finding two, and have Strayer quiz one of them on her ability—discussing where it comes from, and what it means for the rest of us.

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