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Sunday, March 07, 2010

More Bad News for Multi-tasking

Memory formation is often prevented when one event follows too soon after an initial learning event. It is also true that memory of initial learning events can be blocked if you try to learn two things at once. In fact, learning may be disrupted for both things.

In a recent test of this phenomenon, a group of 29 people (17 to 30 years of age) was trained to discriminate two sound pips that differed in length by a fraction of a second. In one group of subjects, the training occurred consecutively, which ordinarily produces some inefficiency with learning because the second task interferes with remembering the first. In this study, some learning did occur, in spite of the sequential tasks. However, results from another group of subjects revealed that when practice on the two tasks was interleaved, there was no learning on either condition.

This indicates that acquistion (initial learning) is vulnerable to multi-tasking, perhaps even more so than when learning of one task is followed too soon by another learning task. In other words, multi-tasking can interfere with initial learning, just as it does with formation of memory.

Source: Banai, K. et al. 2010. Learning two things at once: differential constraints on the acquisition and consolidation of perceptual learning. Neuroscience. 165: 436-444.

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