Counter-Productive Effects of Multitasking: Running vs. Learning
16th May 2011Posted in: Blog 1
Counter-Productive Effects of Multitasking: Running vs. Learning
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I discovered today, much against my expectations that it can be difficult to run on the tread mill while concentrating on an audio book. This experiential data runs contrary to what i would expect because as a painter, i am often painting while also being intensely focused on things like documentaries or audiobooks. I have found that the information contained in documentaries is even more easily integrated to memory when painting than it is when focusing on the documentary alone. This means that multi tasking seems to increase my ability to focus on each task independently. So, for example, when i am learning about the brain, i am listening to documentaries about neurology while painting. The act of painting helps me encode the auditory information in a type of body language memory in the left parietal lobe (since i am right handed). As a result, the terminology or neurology gets encoded while painting and we know that memories which have multiple sensory points of entry are more robust. Hence the rationale for teaching the alphabet to children through songs. Learning anatomy through dance. This is also why we are sold cologne and perfume at airports. The people who market those products know we want to remember our travels and vacations fondly. They also know that the sense most directly and strongly linked to memory is the sense of smell. Anyway, my original point was to suggest that running on a treadmill while listening to an audio book was actually counterproductive. I could not absorb any of the information contained in the audio book nor could i adequately concentrate on running.

I have previously observed that running seems to take my mind away, emptying it of thoughts. Cleansing it of anything which bothers me.  I run for half an hour and seem to think of nothing. When i come back from my run, i am refreshed, compressed. On the other hand, painting seems to fill my head with thoughts and ideas. While running, i noticed that it quickly became very difficult to maintain my motivation. The direct cause of that decreased motivation is in my opinion, the result of having attended to the audio book. While abstract music or lyrical music might have helped or even increased my motivation to work out, as it has done in the past, it seems listening to the data points contained in the audio book on the subject of neurology was too cognitively demanding. The audio book seemed to be taking some of the concentration away from the primary task of moving my entire body in unison on a treadmill. This experiment will have to be repeated several times if i am to form any type of hardfast conclusions about it. For the time being, i am posting the hypothesis that attempting to assimilate verbal auditory data is hindered by the process of full body exercise. As a second hypothesis, I am suggesting that the assimilation verbal auditory data is enhanced by the process of painting. The second hypothesis is supported by the known processes inherent to the inferior parietal lobule. As the left parietal lobe is the lobe of the hand and the regions of the brain responsible for sequential hand movements required for painting are annexed by the regions of the brain required for language comprehension, notably Wernicke's area. Thus the process of painting produces a high rate of neural firing in the areas adjacent to Wernicke's and receptive and expressive language processes are thereby also stimulated. This is supported by the anecdotal evidence that we point at what we are talking about and that we learn to count on our fingers and that the index finger in particular is a bodily extension which serves to illustrate the sentence: "look at what i am about to tell you about..."


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  1. […] productive effects of multitasking: Running vs. Learning” which you can read about here:    a number of new observations have been made in the area of an experienced relationship […]

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