Multitasking Exhausts You Quicker

A mindset is a state of mind, which directs the mind to respond to a task in a particular way. A recent study evaluated the effect of changing mindsets in further functioning of mind and also decision-making. A total of five experiments were carried out to analyze the effects of various changes in mindsets. It was found that upon frequent switching of mindsets, the subsequent performance of participants decreased. “In short, when an employee must wear multiple hats, she should try to change hats as infrequently as possible.”

In different situations and for solving different types of problems, people have to adopt different mindsets. Mindsets greatly influence judgment, bias, and perspective. Researchers felt that adopting a particular type of mindset is also work for the mind. They felt that a person changing mindset frequently, might exhaust the mind in the process, and consequently, decrease their mental performance.  They tested this hypothesis by performing various experiments in which “test” participants were purposefully made to switch mindset frequently and “controls” were made to maintain a particular type of mindset. Later, all the participants were asked to perform different mental exercises, and performance of these exercises was compared.


  • The first experiment required 2 mindsets for a particular problem. Participants were made to think either “why to solve” or “how to solve” the problem. In the test group, the questions were arranged such that, after “why to solve” came a question on “how to solve”. For control participants, all questions were either “why to solve” or “how to solve”. Later, all the participants were asked to drink a vinegar-based drink. The volume of drinks consumed by each participant was measured to estimate the ability of the mind to overcome distaste for a sour drink.
  • In the second experiment, mindset switching was done by asking the participants to choose different equipment by adopting different ways of choosing. Later, they were shown a comedy clipping and asked to control their laughter.
  • In the third experiment, test participants were made to use different languages to answer questions. Hand-grip was measured before and after inducing mindset switching.
  • In the fourth experiment, participants were asked to play computer games, in which they had to either continue to play or avoid further play. After this, they were asked to solve an unsolvable puzzle and the time that they spent on solving the puzzle was calculated. In the fifth part, switching was done between individualistic and collective mindsets. Later, the short term memory and decision-making of participants was measured.


  • In the first experiment, participants who switched their mindsets could drink very few ounces of the vinegar-based drink.
  • In the second experiment, participants who switched their mindset failed to control their laughter. Their facial expressiveness score was 11.3 while it was around 6 in participants who adopted a single mindset.
  • In the third experiment, “participants in the language-switching condition performed worse on the hand-grip task, than participants in English only condition.”
  • In the fourth experiment, participants who switched their mindsets spent less time in solving the puzzle. The fifth experiment also revealed that short term memory and decision making was poor in participants who switched their mindsets.

Shortcomings/Next steps
In the present experiment, the performance of the mind after mindset manipulations was measured by indirect methods, such as drinking vinegar-based drinks etc. These proxy measures may not be the actual representation of the capacity of the mind. Further studies are necessary in which the actual capacity of the mind is measured.

This study has proved that frequent mindset change greatly hampers subsequent mental functioning. These findings are very relevant for employees who must change their mindset very frequently during the course of their routine work. The performance by employees can be enhanced by asking them to do the work of a particular mindset continuously, and then do the work requiring a different mindset. This would exhaust the mind less and improve work efficiency. The opposite is also true, i.e. those people who are exhausted with excess work continue to adopt a particular mindset, even if the situation demands a switchover of mindset.

For More Information:
Being of Two Minds: Switching Mindsets Impairs Subsequent Functioning of Mind
Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, December 2010
By Ryan Hamilton; Kathleen D Vohs
From the Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia and University of Minnesota, Minnesota

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.

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