A Solution for Multitasking?

The research on multitasking and what it does to our brains shows that it is really quite problematic. It overloads our sensory systems, induces negative mental and physiological conditions and reduces accuracy and effectiveness of work.

Peter Bregman recommends ways to overcome the problem of switchtasking in his book titled “18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Your Distraction” but the fact remains that retraining the mind to “unitask” isn’t easy.

So if you need to focus intently on a single task, such as learning or a detailed project, there’s a tool you may find helpful.

The Phenomenon

The Binaural Beats phenomenon of sound induced brain synchronization was discovered in 1839 by Prussian physicist Heinrich Wilhelm Dove.

He found that when two different specific frequencies — known as Binaural Beats —are played through headphones, the brain  produce its own, imagined tone. The area of the brain that controls aspects of three-dimensional sound perception, the superior olivary nucleus, bridges the difference between the varying frequencies in with a common third tone in an attempt to normalize this audio into something we can understand.  Strangely, each person hears the “third tone” differently. People with Parkinson’s disease can’t hear it at all; women will hear different tones as they move through their menstrual cycle.

 In the early 1970s, scientist Gerald Oster confirmed, using fMRIs, that Binaural Beats didn’t just affect the brain but the neurological system as well as other parts of the body.

Since then, Binaural Beats have been clinically shown to physically affect the listener’s brain and body, even triggering the pituitary gland to flood the body with good-feeling hormones like dopamine. They can be mentally and physically beneficial, and have been claimed to reduce anxiety and to provide other health benefits such as control over pain.

Brainwave Entrainment

Binaural beats reportedly influence the brain through the entrainment of brainwaves, which Wikipedia explains as follows:

If different pure tones (sinusoidal signals with different frequencies) are presented to each ear, there will be time dependent phase and time differences between both ears (see figure).

When the perceived beat frequency corresponds to the delta, theta, alpha, beta, or gamma range of brainwave frequencies, the brainwaves entrain to or move towards the beat frequency. For example, if a 315 Hz sine wave is played into the right ear and a 325 Hz one into the left ear, the brain is entrained towards the beat frequency 10 Hz, in the alpha range. Since alpha range is associated with relaxation, this has a relaxing effect or if in the beta range, more alertness. An experiment with binaural sound stimulation using beat frequencies in the Beta range on some participants and Delta/Theta range in other participants, found better vigilance performance and mood in those on the awake alert state of Beta range stimulation.

Binaural beat stimulation has been used fairly extensively to induce a variety of states of consciousness, and there has been some work done in regards to the effects of these stimuli on relaxation, focus, attention, and states of consciousness.

Beneficial Effects

Frequency range Name Usually associated with:
> 40 Hz Gamma waves Higher mental activity, including perception, problem solving, fear, and consciousness
13–39 Hz Beta waves Active, busy or anxious thinking and active concentration, arousal, cognition, and or paranoia
7–13 Hz Alpha waves Relaxation (while awake), pre-sleep and pre-wake drowsiness, REM sleep, Dreams
8–12 Hz Mu waves Sensorimotor rhythm Mu_rhythm, Sensorimotor_rhythm
4–7 Hz Theta waves deep meditation/relaxation, NREM sleep
< 4 Hz Delta waves Deep dreamless sleep, loss of body awareness

By lowering the brain frequency, the listener can benefit from relaxation, reduction of anxiety, improved  concentration, and sleep induction. Other alleged uses include reducing learning time and sleeping needs (theta waves are thought to improve learning, since children, who have stronger theta waves, and remain in this state for a longer period of time than adults, usually learn faster than adults, and some people report that half an hour in the theta state can reduce sleeping needs up to four hours, similar to achieving a theta state in meditation.  Alpha-theta brainwave training has also been successful in the treatment of addictions.

A study of Delta binaural beat technology over a period of 60 days resulted in reports of significant decrease in trait anxiety, an increase in quality of life, and a decrease in insulin-like growth factor-1 and dopamine.

Overcome Sensory Overload

As mentioned above, one  claimed effect is enhanced learning ability. It has been claimed that induced alpha brain waves enable students to assimilate more information with greater long term retention, and more recently, theta brain waves has been linked to enhanced behavioral learning, as theta patterns(4–7 Hz)  in the brain are  associated with increased receptivity for learning and decreased filtering by the left hemisphere. Biofeedback training suggests that people can learn to increase a specific component of their EEG activity, and that such enhanced activity may facilitate a working memory task and to a lesser extent focused attention.

Free Binaural Beats

You need to use headphones for bianural beats to work. There are numerous online and mobile sources where you can listen to Binaural Beats. You might start with this one, some of the ones here . There are sites like this with an embedded player, and there’s even a forum for binaural beat enthusiasts here with more files for download.

Related Snap! Articles


Suicide Rates Increase Under Conservative Governments

Research published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health shows that the suicide rate increases under Conservative governments. Australian scientists found the suicide rate in the country increased significantly when a Conservative government was in power. An analysis of figures in the UK suggests a similar trend.

The Australian team analysed suicide statistics for New South Wales between 1901, when the federal government was established, and 1998. They took into account periods of drought and World War II, because of their economic and psychological impact (suicide rates were higher during those periods.) After adjusting for these factors, the figures showed the highest rates of suicide occurred when both Conservative state and federal governments were in power. Conversely, the lowest rates occurred when state and federal governments were both Labor.


The authors note that Conservative rule traditionally implies a less interventionist, more market-orientated policy than Labor rule, which may make people feel more detached from society. Lead researcher Professor Richard Taylor, of the University of Sydney, told BBC News Online:

We think that it may be because material conditions in lower socio-economic groups may be relatively better under labor because of government programs, and there may be a perception of greater hope by these groups under labor.  There is a strong relationship between socio-economic status and suicide.

The British Situation

In one of a series of accompanying editorials, Dr Mary Shaw and colleagues from the University of Bristol say the same patterns were evident in England and Wales between 1901 and 2000 where suicide rates have been lower under Labor governments and soared under the last Conservative regime which began in 1979 under Margaret Thatcher. They fell under the more moderate John Major, rose slightly under Tony Blair, and have since fallen. Overall, they say, the figures suggest:

  • 35,000 people would not have died had the Conservatives not been in power.
  • That’s equivalent to one suicide for every day of the 20th century.
  • It’s also equivalent to two suicides for every day that the Conservatives ruled.

It’s Not Just Economics

Interestingly, the authors point out that although suicide rates tend to increase when unemployment is high, they were also above average during the 1950s when Britain was doing well economically but was ruled by the Conservative party.

What About the U.S.?


A Similar Trend: The above chart, from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, shows a similar trend. Note:

  • A decreasing trend during the term of Bill Clinton (1993 – 2001)
  • An increasing trend during the term of G.W. Bush (2001 – 2009)

The Disproportionate Rise Under George W. Bush (2001 – 2009): The rate of suicide in the United States rose sharply during the first few years since the start of the recession, according to a new analysis report which appeared on the Web site of The Lancet, a medical journal. Researchers found that the rate between 2008 and 2010 increased four times faster than it did in the eight years before the recession.

However, the report finds that the rate had already been increasing during the presidency of George W. Bush by an average of 0.12 deaths per 100,000 people from 1999 through 2007, which is apparent from the chart above. In 2008, the rate began increasing by an average of 0.51 deaths per 100,000 people a year, raising the total deaths from suicide each year by about 1,500.

The Exacerbating Effect of Conservative Policies:  We know, of course, that suicide rates often spike during economic downturn. Recent studies of rates in Greece, Spain and Italy have found similar trends. The report shows that every rise of 1 percent in unemployment was accompanied by an increase in the suicide rate of roughly 1 percent, and a similar correlation has been found in some European countries since the recession.

But also significant is the finding that the U.S. increase was larger than estimated. According to the authors:

The magnitude of these effects is slightly larger than for those previously estimated in the United States. That might mean that this economic downturn has been harder on mental health than previous ones.

Wealth Inequality: Or, perhaps, the effect of a conservative government? One reason that it is difficult to separate this out is that the policies of G.W. Bush’s conservative government – and preceding conservative governments – directly resulted in the record unemployment rates. The stock market has fared better under Democratic presidencies, but, perhaps, most significant, is the effect of policies that tilt the playing field toward the average citizen over the elite 2% of Americans. It is by now well established growing wealth inequality has greatly diminished the economic status and prospects for average and lower income Americans.

Mass Murders Are Also Suicides: The U.S. is overstocked with guns and assault rifles, and, as a result, there are far more shooting deaths here than anywhere in the world. This naturally includes suicides. Mass murders are quite often suicide attempts that take others down with the perpetrator. Here are the alarming statistics about suicide gun deaths in the U.S.:

  • Death by firearms is the fastest growing method of suicide.
  • Firearms account for 50 percent of all suicides.
  • Firearms are used in more suicides than homicides.
  • 83% of gun-related deaths in homes of people who reportedly keep a firearm in their home for “protection” or “self defense,”are the result of a suicide, often by someone other than the gun owner.

The Complicity of the Gun Lobby


The now infamous speech by the NRA’s executive vice president Wayne LaPierre called for armed police in every school. Of course, he knows that this is impossible, and furthermore, as a conservative Republican, like Grover Norquist, who sits on the NRA’s board of directors, he would never support the tax increase required to facilitate the hiring of enough policeman to accomplish this. According to Lawrence O’Donnell:

Just based on the median salary for police officers in America, that would cost $6.7 billion a year. There is not a town or city or state in America that has extra money lying around today to hire extra police officers.

If $6.7 billion had to be raised from new taxes, then, of course, Grover Norquist would use all of his powers to oppose those taxes — Grover Norquist, who is, of course, a member of the board of the National Rifle Association.

So, the CEO of the NRA took to a microphone in Washington today to suggest a solution to the massacres of children in our schools and the solution is something he and his friends would not be willing to pay for. And he and his friends would attack any politician who attempted to pay for it.

Conservatism Devalues Life

So now that a correlation between suicide deaths and conservative government has been established, there is plenty of room for discussion about the reasons for that correlation. I can suggest a few conjectural ones, based on my own observations and logical inference, although I would repeat that these are only conjectural. I believe the key is that conservatism devalues life.

Disregard for The Sanctity of Life: Of course, religious conservatives purport to be pro-life, but this concern for the sanctity of life notably ends at birth. This demographic are disproportionate supporters of policies that threaten life after birth, including wars abroad and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, including domestic assault weapons.

Policies That Devalue Life: Conservatives also disproportionately support policies that devalue life after birth, including policies that impoverish the middle and low income Americans in favor of the elite 2%.

Ideologies That Devalue Life: Conservatives typically espouse ideologies that flirt with civil libertarianism, favoring individual rights over collective responsibility as a functioning community. This ideology is akin to social Darwinism, in which the strongest individual claws his way to the top at the expense of everyone else. Psychologist Eric Fromm wrote about this “authoritarian personality” in his famous book Escape from Freedom.

Corporatism/Fascism:  The interesting disconnect among radical individualists is that they have been confused into supporting the notion that corporate rights trump individual rights – “corporations are people, my friend.” Although it is often inflammatory to use the term, this is the true essence of fascism.

The classic definition of the word “fascist” has been altered over the years, which handily conceals the fact that the American right is largely fascist. Let’s examine the definition that Mussolini had in mind when he claimed to have invented the word.

The term was actually Italian philosopher Giovanni Gentile who wrote the entry in the Encyclopedia Italiana that read as follows:

Fascism should more appropriately be called corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power. (Mussolini affixed his name to the entry, and claimed credit for it.)

As the 1983 American Heritage Dictionary noted, fascism is:

A system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership, together with belligerent nationalism.

Thom Hartman notes that instead of “We The People,” a fascist government would be a government of, by, and for the most powerful corporate interests in the nation. He points out that:

In 1938, Mussolini brought his vision of fascism into full reality when he dissolved Parliament and replaced it with the “Camera dei Fasci e delle Corporazioni” – the Chamber of the Fascist Corporations. Corporations were still privately owned, but now instead of having to sneak their money to folks like Tom DeLay and covertly write legislation, they were openly in charge of the government.

Foreign Scapegoats: Today’s conservatives support an unnecessarily bloated military that, while purporting to protect the nation, has provoked attacks by “terrorists” that U.S. policy has largely created. Of course, Middle East Moslems are the scapegoats of U.S. conservative policy today, even though these elements were almost entirely created as the result of U.S. interventionalist policy in the Middle East.

A Permanent Underclass: Another feature of conservative policy is the creation of a permanent underclass. The record number of un- and under-employed today is the result of economic policies that have systematically undermined labor over the years. Large corporations like Wal-Mart have created a nation of wage slaves, and a  growing Prison Industry, such as Colorado Correctional Industries gets its labor dirt cheap. Right to work laws are being implemented to further undermine American wages.

The ideological side of this devastating economic trend is that the poor and former, now struggling middle class are being scapegoated for the failure of American business to provide a living wage for its employees. After creating a record budget deficit, business leaders and corporate-led Republican politicians are calling for the middle and lower classes to pay the price by proposing to slash federal spending on social programs and dismantle/privatize them step by step.

Intolerance: Opposition to human rights, including women’s reproductive rights, and gay and lesbian rights demeans people for simply being what they are. Demonizing undocumented workers as “illegal aliens” rather than seeking a path to citizenship for responsible people seeking opportunities, and dog whistle racism in politics are psychologically debilitating violations of human rights.


In short, an economic and governmental system that serves the needs of the elite, and simultaneously feeds the authoritarian tendencies of the intolerant creates a psychologically debilitating environment. This is fueled by fear through the introduction of conservative legislation that targets people for their gender, ethnicity and orientation, including stand-your-ground laws, laws that preclude people from marrying the ones they love, and laws that intend to deprive people of their most basic rights, including their right to vote.

It really is no surprise that the suicide rate increases under conservative rule, as individual opportunity is drained away and respect for individual differences gives way to intolerance and persecution.

Kevin Allen in Ragan’s PR Daily explains that he takes the time to look at a baby animal every day, even though he’s a baby animal enthusiast. It’s just that he spends so much time on the Internet.Fortunately, Japanese researchers (who else?) have shown that this increases productivity. The Atlantic Wire highlights a study at Hiroshima University:

“A team led by Hiroshi Nittono had 48 male and female students perform a visual task where they were asked to look for double digits in a series of random matrices with numbers. The students were asked to give as many accurate responses as possible in three minutes. Then, the students looked at pictures before doing the task again. One group looked at cute baby animals, another at less cute adult animals, and a third at pleasant-looking food.”

Results: the group that looked at the baby animals was the most productive.

I’m curious whether marketers can use the effect to stimulate people to buy more.

 of GetElastic put together this informative infographic on the culture of multitasking and what it does to our brains. See the links below for more research on the subject – in between clicks, that is. 😉



, motivational psychologist and author of ‘Succeed’ and “Nine Things Successful People Do Differently” writes a must read article for and the Huffington Post titled “The Presentation Mistake You Don’t Know You’re Making.”

Dr. Halvorson discusses an important principle in behavioral economics – a pervasive bias in presenter thinking (“more is better”) that actually runs counter to an equally pervasive consumer perceptual bias (less is more). The implications for marketing are significant.

The Presenter’s Paradox: More is Actually Not Better

In 2012, psychologists Kimberlee Weaver, Stephen Garcia and Norbert Schwarz undertook a robust series of seven studies into  the “presenter’s paradox” in the Journal of Consumer Research, Inc. Their findings in impression formation demonstrate that:

Perceivers’ judgments show a weighted averaging pattern, which results in less favorable evaluations when mildly favorable information is added to highly favorable information…We show that presenters…instead design presentations that include all of the favorable information available. This additive strategy (“more is better”) hurts presenters in their perceivers’ eyes because mildly favorable information dilutes the impact of highly favorable information.

The Effect Explained

We assume when we present someone with a list of accomplishments  or a bundle of product and service benefits, that consumers will see what we’re offering additively. The example Dr. Halvorson gives is this: In applying for a job, we may list the following qualifications:

  • Graduating from Harvard.
  • Having a prestigious internship.
  • Demonstrating a record of successfully applying rigorous statistical skills.

Knowing that the company does business in Latin America, we add the following skillset:

  • Having taken 2 semesters of Spanish in college.
The result: The first 3 skills all rank a “10” on the scale of impressiveness, but the last skill ranks only a “2.” So how is this perceived by the interviewer?
We reason that more is better. Added together, we believe we have enhanced the effectiveness of our presentation:
  • 10 + 10 + 10 + 2 = “32” in impressiveness.

But the client or buyer reasons differently:  Consumers don’t add up the impressiveness, they average it,  seeing the big picture by looking at the package as a whole, rather than focusing on the individual parts.  Their perception:

  • (10+ 10+ 10+ 2)/4 = “8” in impressiveness.

The better proposition is to not add the less impressive benefit or accomplishment (2 semesters of Spanish.)  The consumer averages this as follows:

  • (10 + 10+ 10)/3 =”10″ in impressiveness.

So mentioning an additional benefit of lessor value makes you a less attractive candidate than if you’d said nothing at all.

The Effect Also Works “In Reverse

The same effect emerges in creating deterrents to discourage bad behavior. Another study asked participants were asked to choose between two punishments to give for littering: 1) a $750 fine plus two hours of community service, or 2) a $750 fine. Results:
  • 86% of participants administering punishment felt that the fine plus community service would be the stronger deterrent.
  • However,  participants who were handed these punishments rated the $750 with the two hours of community service as significantly less severe than the fine alone.

They reasoned that the overall punishment was on average less disparaging because two hours of community service isn’t really that bad.

Marketing Experiment

The research examines the implications of this effect for a variety of marketing contexts. Buyers were presented with an iPod Touch package that contained either an iPod, cover, and one free song download, or just an iPod and cover. The surprising result:

  • Buyers were willing to pay an average of $177 for the package with the download.
  • But they were willing to pay $242 for the one without the download. The addition of the low-value free song download brought down the perceived value of the package by as much as $65.

Yet, a second set of participants asked to play the role of marketer and judge which of the two packages would be more attractive to consumers overwhelmingly (92%) choose the package with the free download.

Financial Marketing: Humana Cheapens Their Value Proposition

Medicare Advantage products offered by private insurers provide an alternative to traditional Medicare. They are aptly named since have some significant advantages: they are more comprehensive, covering deductibles and copays that traditional Medicare does not, and prescription drug coverage as well, if elected.

They also provide some additional ancillary benefits, including vision care and wellness benefits.

One of the big providers, Humana, aired an infomercial during the end-of-year open enrollment period. The infomercial devoted a disproportionate amount of time to hawking the benefits of, and showing client testimonies about, membership in the Silver Sneakers fitness program. The value of health club membership is rather insignificant in comparison to providing comprehensive care in the event of chronic and life threatening illness. The presenter’s paradox informs us that devoting so much time to calling out this benefit of lesser value cheapens the consumer’s perception of the brand.


More is actually not better, when you add a benefit or feature that is of lesser quality than the rest of your offerings. Its dilutes the favorability of core benefits.

Dr. Halvorson’s advice: to stop ourselves from making this kind of mistake, marketers should think “big picture:

What does the package I am presenting look like taken as a whole, and are there any components that are actually bringing down its overall value or impact?

Related articles by Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D.: click here.


“Multitasking is a polite way of telling someone “I haven’t heard a word you’ve said.” – Dave Crenshaw

I have highlighted research about the problems with multitasking, which shows that the brain actually cannot effectively do two things at once. Dave Crenshaw, founder of Invaluable Inc., has written a book summarizing this research, called The Myth of Multitasking: How Doing it All Gets Nothing Done.  It shows that multitasking –which is really switchtasking – is a less effective and efficient way to work.

Switching costs results when people must go back and review what they’ve done before they resume work on a task. The more complicated the task, the greater the cost. Saying you are good at multitasking is like saying you’re good at using a less effective method of getting things done. No matter how good you are at switchtasking, you will get less done than the person who focuses on one attention-requiring activity at a time.”

Test Yourself

Dave uses the following demonstration to show why multitasking doesn’t work. Referencing the form in this link, Dave’s takes you through an exercise to prove the downsides of Multitasking:

The results may prove to you the following problems with multitasking:

  • Things take longer
  • Number of mistakes increase
  • Stress levels increase.

Unlearning Multitasking: You Can (Un)Do It!

So can multitasking be unlearned?

Peter Bregman’s book on how to overcome the problem of switchtasking, titled “18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Your Distraction” has garnered such credits as the Gold medal from the Axiom Business Book awards, best business book of the year by NPR, and was selected by Publisher’s Weekly and the New York Post as a top 10 business book of the year.

Peter conducted a personal experiment to give up multitasking. His objective was to sustain focus on one thing at a time for that period of time. His personal findings:

  1. Being free of multitasking was delightful.
  2. I made progress on challenging projects.
  3. My stress level dropped dramatically.
  4. I lost patience for things that wasted my time.
  5. I had patience for useful and enjoyable tasks.
  6. There was no downside.

He says there was no downside, as no project was left unfinished, and no one expressed frustration when he didn’t answer calls or return emails immediately upon receiving them. Peter holds that the best way to fight distracting interruptions is to create productive ones, a practice that can be easily implemented in 18 minutes a day. In the short videos below, Peter briefly reviews the methodologies provided in his book:


Part 1: “The Run Walk Method”

Part 2: Tip on To Do Lists

Part 3: How To Leverage Your Weaknesses

Part 4: How To Get the Initiative to Get Things Done

Related Post:



‎”Disputation and discussion are both futile.
Why is that?
Because nothing either party could say could possibly be true,
And whereas dispute picks out the false,
Which is too easy to see,
Discussion seeks the truth which is being pointed at,
Which is too difficult to describe.”

Wei Wu Wei, Posthumous Pieces, 1968

Related Post:

Neuroscientist’s 5 Lessons in Corporate Communications

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