Talking on a cell phone while driving is distracting and, therefore, dangerous.
Not so fast, say two psychologists at the University of Utah, David L. Strayer and Jason M. Watson (pictured). Citing earlier research, the pair agree that for the vast majority of people who talk and drive, even on hands-free models, ”brake reaction times are delayed, object detection is impaired, traffic-related brain potentials are suppressed, and accident rates are increased.”
But in a study that is to be reported in a forthcoming issue of the journal Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, the psychologists found that about 1 in 40 people are “supertaskers” who are able to juggle multiple roles without sacrificing performance.
Mr. Watson and Mr. Strayer put 200 University of Utah undergraduates through a series of unique driving scenarios using a PatrolSim high-fidelity driving simulator, measuring such multi-tasking skills as reaction time, memory capability, and mathematical performance. The researchers found that supertaskers not only outperform most people on single tasks, but when they are asked to do two things simultaneously, the supertaskers actually perform the constituent tasks as well or better than when they were completing the tasks individually.
Odds are that you are not among the 2.5 percent of people whom Professors Watson and Strayer classify as supertaskers. But even if you are, that might not be anything to brag about, their paper suggests: “It may be that supertaskers excel at multi-tasking at the expense of other processing abilities.”
Nothing wrong with being an absent-minded professor. —Don Troop