Slow Down, Brave Multitasker, and Don’t Read This in Traffic

In many daily tasks, of course, a lost second is unimportant. But one implication of the Vanderbilt research mentioned below is that talking on a cellphone while driving a car is dangerous. A one-second delay in response time at 60 miles an hour could be fatal.
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The human brain, with its hundred billion neurons and hundreds of trillions of synaptic connections, is a cognitive powerhouse in many ways. “But a core limitation is an inability to concentrate on two things at once,” said René Marois, a neuroscientist and director of the Human Information Processing Laboratory at Vanderbilt University.

Mr. Marois and three other Vanderbilt researchers reported in an article last December in the journal Neuron that they used magnetic resonance imaging to pinpoint the bottleneck in the brain and to measure how much efficiency is lost when trying to handle two tasks at once.

Study participants were given two tasks and were asked to respond to sounds and images. The first was to press the correct key on a computer keyboard after hearing one of eight sounds. The other task was to speak the correct vowel after seeing one of eight images.

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