For those who find it tough to juggle more than a couple things at once, don't despair. The brain is set up to manage two tasks, but not more, a new study suggests.

That's because, when faced with two tasks, a part of the brain known as the medial prefrontal cortex (MFC) divides so that half of the region focuses on one task and the other half on the other task. This division of labor allows a person to keep track of two tasks pretty readily, but if you throw in a third, things get a bit muddled.

o social scientist and lawyer Don Braman, it's not surprising that two people can disagree so strongly over science. Braman is on the faculty at George Washington University and part of The Cultural Cognition Project, a group of scholars who study how cultural values shape public perceptions and policy beliefs.

"People tend to conform their factual beliefs to ones that are consistent with their cultural outlook, their world view," Braman says.

A respected Swiss scientist, Conrad Gessner, might have been the first to raise the alarm about the effects of information overload. In a landmark book, he described how the modern world overwhelmed people with data and that this overabundance was both "confusing and harmful" to the mind. [...] It's worth noting that Gessner, for his part, never once used e-mail and was completely ignorant about computers. That's not because he was a technophobe but because he died in 1565. His warnings referred to the seemingly unmanageable flood of information unleashed by the printing press.


To date, studies suggest there is no consistent evidence that the Internet causes mental problems. If anything, the data show that people who use social networking sites actually tend to have better offline social lives, while those who play computer games are better than nongamers at absorbing and reacting to information with no loss of accuracy or increased impulsiveness.

Technology has always been used as a memory aid, of course, but in past millenia, scratching on a clay tablet, writing with a fountain pen, and snapping a digital photo have all required an act of will. Humans had to choose what they would remember.

Now, in an age of ever-cheaper storage, the data committed to machine memory requires an act of will to delete. Storage is now so cheap, in fact, that it requires more effort to cull an e-mail inbox or photo gallery than it does to simply hold on to everything.

To get back to a default state of forgetfulness, Mayer-Schönberger offers an intriguing proposal: find simple ways to give data an expiration date.

Having people tag images by hand is an onerous task. Shenoy and Tan of Microsoft Research developed a way to tag images automatically by reading people’s brain scans while they look at images. The people did not even have to specifically think about trying to tag the image; they merely had to passively observe it.

Griddlers are logic puzzles that use number clues around a grid to create an image.

So if intelligence in itself is not a factor in popularity, why are smart kids so consistently unpopular? The answer, I think, is that they don't really want to be popular.

"A high IQ is like height in a basketball player," says David Perkins, who studies thinking and reasoning skills at Harvard Graduate School of Education in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "It is very important, all other things being equal. But all other things aren't equal. There's a lot more to being a good basketball player than being tall, and there's a lot more to being a good thinker than having a high IQ."

People who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information do not pay attention, control their memory or switch from one job to another as well as those who prefer to complete one task at a time, a group of Stanford researchers has found.

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