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supertasker

Contributor(s): Ivy Wigmore

A supertasker is someone who performs better when doing multiple things simultaneously than they do when limiting their attention to a single task. The term essentially means someone who can multitask but in particular, someone whose performance is enhanced when they are doing more than one task that requires focused attention at the same time. Although supertaskers exist, they are extremely rare. According to one study, less than 3 percent of the population qualifies. 

Multitasking contrasts with monotasking or single-tasking, the act of focusing on a given piece of work without allowing oneself to be sidetracked by other tasks or distractions. Although people often multitask, very few can perform well if they must really attend to two or more tasks at any given moment. What they are actually doing, for the most part, is rapidly switching between tasks. However, that typically degrades their ability to do a good job.

When cognitive neuroscientists David Strayer and Jason Watson conducted a study on multitasking, they discovered that a very small number of participants excelled. Participants were tasked with operating a driving simulator and talking on a hands-free phone, while maintaining a certain distance from the car in front of them. At the same time, they were given a list of words to memorize and also sporadically given math problems to solve in their heads. Ninety-seven percent of participants performed poorly, as expected. However, the researchers found that 2.5 percent performed better multitasking than monotasking.

Supertaskers have a special capacity for divided attention because of their unusual brain wiring. However, most of us can multitask effectively when the tasks involved don’t require the same type of mental processing or attention. Some people can focus more effectively on writing, for example, while listening to music or can absorb information from a podcast more effectively while knitting or sketching.

This was last updated in July 2019

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