Meditation & Multitasking

Can mindfulness meditation improve one’s ability to multitask? Jake Wobbrock, Al Kaszniak, and I designed an experiment to explore this question.

In an NSF-funded study, we recruited HR (Human Resource) managers in Seattle and San Francisco, and over eight weeks gave them either (a) training in mindfulness meditation; (b) training in body relaxation; or (c) no training (control group). Both before and after the eight-week period, participants were given a stressful, naturalistic multitasking test in an office setting. Their results were scored for accuracy, time to completion, number of task-switches, memory for tasks, and self-reported stress.

Briefly, the results were as follows:

  • The meditators experienced less negative emotion (stress) in the multitasking test after receiving training.
  • The meditators were also less fragmented in their work, switching tasks less often and spending greater time on task (without increasing overall test time).
  • Both the meditators and the relaxers showed improved memory for their tasks.

The published results are available in this article: “The Effects of Mindfulness Meditation Training on Multitasking in a High-Stress Information Environment.”

Press coverage includes a column in USA Today and an op-ed piece in The New York Times.