How Divided Attention Affects Multitasking

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  • 0:00 Divided Attention
  • 0:27 Multitasking
  • 1:40 Learning
  • 2:25 Multitasking Research
  • 3:23 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Yuanxin (Amy) Yang Alcocer

Amy has a master's degree in secondary education and has taught math at a public charter high school.

In this video lesson, you will see how multitasking results in divided attention. You will then see how this divided attention results in poorer memory and less learning.

Divided Attention

Meet John. He is a teenager going to high school. When he gets home every day, he turns on the television to his favorite after school program ,and then he takes out his homework. He wants to do both at the same time so that when he finishes his television program, he will also be done with his homework. Then he can go and play with his friends. When he is watching his television program and doing his homework, he has what is called divided attention. He is giving attention to two or more tasks at the same time.


By doing two tasks at once, John is trying to multitask. To multitask means to do two or more tasks at the same time. When John is multitasking, he has divided attention. John is not able to give either activity his complete and undivided attention. He cannot fully watch his program, and he cannot fully pay attention to his homework. How does this affect John? Let's find out.


At the end of week, John's teacher gives him an unexpected pop quiz. How does John do? John finds himself staring blankly at some of the test questions. He can't remember what he learned this past week. He remembers part of the television program he watched, but he is having trouble remembering what he did with his homework.

The teacher told him that all of the questions on this quiz are coming from the homework this past week. John is getting upset with himself because he knows he did all his homework, but he just can't remember how he solved the problems. John wishes he wouldn't have tried to watch the television program and do his homework at the same time. He looks back and realizes that because he is not giving full attention to his homework, his brain isn't able to process what he is learning. As a result, John's grades suffer.


Ah yes, by giving divided attention to his multitasking, John has learned a lesson the hard way. Divided attention while multitasking is negatively affecting his learning. He doesn't remember much, and he isn't able to build on what he already knows.

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