Training improves multitasking performance by increasing the speed of information processing in human prefrontal cortex

Neuron. 2009 Jul 16;63(1):127-38. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2009.06.005.


Our ability to multitask is severely limited: task performance deteriorates when we attempt to undertake two or more tasks simultaneously. Remarkably, extensive training can greatly reduce such multitasking costs. While it is not known how training alters the brain to solve the multitasking problem, it likely involves the prefrontal cortex given this brain region's purported role in limiting multitasking performance. Here, we show that the reduction of multitasking interference with training is not achieved by diverting the flow of information processing away from the prefrontal cortex or by segregating prefrontal cells into independent task-specific neuronal ensembles, but rather by increasing the speed of information processing in this brain region, thereby allowing multiple tasks to be processed in rapid succession. These results not only reveal how training leads to efficient multitasking, they also provide a mechanistic account of multitasking limitations, namely the poor speed of information processing in human prefrontal cortex.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Mental Processes / physiology*
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Prefrontal Cortex / blood supply
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Reaction Time / physiology*
  • Task Performance and Analysis
  • Teaching / methods*
  • Young Adult


  • Oxygen