Concurrent task performance enhances low-level visuomotor learning (a rare exception to the general rule that multitasking dramatically and seriously degrades performance).

Take-home message: a paradoxical result. Sometimes, when performing a very dull task, being forced to deploy extra attention to another simultaneously-performed task makes you better on the first task. This is a rare exception to the general rule that multitasking dramatically and seriously degrades performance (see this tooand also). Don’t text and drive: you’ll crash (this is kinda yuck and not for those of a nervous disposition: 

; texting and driving places too many concurrent demands on a limited bandwidth system. But do listen to the radio while drying the dishes or some other simple visuomotor task; this will keep you from falling asleep from boredom while standing and drying. [Download the paper]

Concurrent task performance enhances low-level visuomotor learning.

Percept Psychophys. 2007 May;69(4):513-22.

Visuomotor association learning involves learning to make a motor response to an arbitrary visual stimulus. This learning is essential for visual search and discrimination performance and is reliant upon a well-defined neural circuit in the brain that includes the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampal formation. In the present study, we investigated the possible role of attentional processes during such learning using dual-task interference. A motor, verbal, or perceptual concurrent task was performed during the learning/training block of a simple visual discrimination task. Contrary to expectation, the dual-task groups showed improved learning and learning-dependent performance compared with untrained control and non-dual-task trained groups. A second experiment revealed that this effect did not appear to be due to increased arousal level; the inclusion of alerting tones during learning did not result in facilitation. These findings suggest that the engagement of attention, but not arousal, during the acquisition of a visuomotor association can facilitate this learning and its expression.

PMID: 17727104
[Small update: this piece at BrainFacts.Org is excellent, too]

Author: Shane O'Mara

Neuroscientist

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