Since 1986, the amount of information we absorb has increased fivefold and our options for getting more have become almost limitless. All this choice and access to data might seem like a luxury of contemporary life – and in some ways it is – but recent neuroscience studies have shown it’s making our brains work overtime. As it turns out, we aren’t just bad at multitasking, we’re not equipped for it at all. In fact, we’re just switching between tasks, which uses up neural resources that would otherwise go towards actual problem-solving.
In this talk at the Royal Society of Arts in London, Daniel Levitin, a professor of psychology and behavioural neuroscience at McGill University in Canada, reveals the surprising effects that ‘information overload’ is having on our brains, and how we can best combat the data deluge. Some of the proven strategies, like taking short naps to recharge, could go beyond simply preventing brain drain and helping us maintain focus, but might actually make us better, more creative problem-solvers too. In fact, Levitin makes the case for regular daydreaming – 15 minutes every two hours – so that our brains benefit from a restorative mind-wandering mode, which he describes as their natural state.