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Towards safe and productive human multitasking (MULTITASK)
Start date: Nov 1, 2011, End date: Oct 31, 2016 PROJECT  FINISHED 

"People show a strong inclination for multitasking: they use multiple devices while driving a car, students do homework while sending text-messages and watching television, and office workers rapidly switch from one task to another. It is crucial to understand the role of multitasking in modern society, whether in terms of set-ting legal limits to multitasking in cases where it leads to unacceptable risks, or designing work situations in which productivity is supported or security is maintained.The goal of this project is to understand what circumstances change a person from an effective multitasker into one overwhelmed by too many demands, and to design countermeasures to keep people in control. A strong interdisciplinary research program in this area is necessary, because improper multitasking can lead to increased risks, loss of productivity and even long-term decrements in cognitive abilities.To investigate these questions we have developed two new groundbreaking methods. The first is the threaded cognition computational model of multitasking. Threaded cognition predicts when and how tasks interfere, by simulating the cognitive processes in the mind. The second is a new method highlighting the areas of interference. This done by using threaded cognition to analyze fMRI neuroimaging data, mapping functional units in the model onto brain areas. The new challenge is to use both methods to understand and predict how people select tasks for multitasking. The unique combination of methods is expected to result in fundamental knowledge on identifying the mechanisms that determine human task decisions, and in under-standing how sequences of such decisions can lead to multitasking situations with dangerous cognitive over-load or productivity dead-ends. Understanding the cognitive mechanisms of task selection in multitasking can be crucially important in designing multitasking environments that improve productivity and safety in-stead of thwarting it."
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