Multitasking with Multifocal Attention

The Multi-task evolution

We twitch from cellphone to email, Facebook to Twitter, flat screen television to treadmill, laptop to tablet, with an eye on the stove and the kids.

So what's the breaking point when our bodies, our minds, or both, say enough?

Scientists such as Julio Martinez-Trujillo, Canada Research Chair in neuroscience at McGill University, believe we are hard-wired to multi-task. "Imagine having to pay attention to several predators all around you in the savannah."
What of the children of the digital age?

"Imagine a student today. They've got an iPod, they've got an iPad, maybe the television is on." Fail to learn to do several things at once, and "life is going to be hard."

Martinez-Trujillo believes the kids will be all right.

"There are two schools of thought on multi-tasking. Some people have argued that the next generation are going to all have ADHD, that they will be incapable of focusing," he said. "I'm not seeing that. The students in my classes don't seem to be suffering, their grades aren't going down. They are adapting."
For nearly 30 years, the widelyaccepted view on multi-tasking held
that there was a single "spotlight" that controlled attention within the prefrontal cortex, the executive section of our brain just above the forehead which serves as the mind's organizer.

News: How do we split our attention?

McGill's Cognitive Neurophysiology Lab team finds that we are natural-born multi-taskers

Imagine you're a hockey goalie, and two opposing players are breaking in alone on you, passing the puck back and forth. You're aware of the linesman skating in on your left, but pay him no mind. Your focus is on the puck and the two approaching players. As the action unfolds, how is your brain processing this intense moment of "multi-tasking"? Are you splitting your focus of attention into multiple "spotlights?" Are you using one "spotlight" and switching between objects very quickly? Or are you "zooming out" the spotlight and taking it all in at once?

These are the questions Julio Martinez-Trujillo, a cognitive neurophysiology specialist from McGill University, and his team set out to answer in a new study on multifocal attention. They found that, for the first time, there's evidence that we can pay attention to more than one thing at a time.

Cognitive Neurophysiology Laboratory - Dr. Martinez-Trujillo

Dr. Julio Martinez-Trujillo Lab
The laboratory uses a combination of techniques such as behavioral measurements, extra-cellular single cell recordings and brain mapping in order to explore the physiology of cognition, more specifically, the physiology of attention, visuomotor transformations and motion perception. Ultimately, the results of our research will be applied to the study of diseases that affect human health.