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For an introduction to this series, click here.

Click to Listen (3 minutes)

(Interview conducted by Maura Thomas, Chief Trainer at

MT: I’m speaking with Dr. John Dovidio from Yale University, and he has been kind enough to allow me to interview him about attention and multitasking, and the somewhat conflicting studies that are coming out lately around both of these. Dr. Dovidio teaches psychology at Yale.  Thanks for taking the time.

JD: Thank you.

MT: I sent you a passage from an article by Matt Richtel from the New York Times.  Matt Richtel is doing a series called “Your Brain on Computers” and this particular quote from his article says,

“Scientists say juggling email, phone calls, and other incoming information can change how people think and behave.  They say our ability to focus is being undermined by bursts of information.  These play to a primitive impulse to respond to immediate opportunities and threats.  The stimulation provokes excitement, a dopamine squirt, that researchers say can be addictive.  In its absence, people feel bored.”

Matt Richtel: “Attached to Technology and Paying a Price,” the New York Times

So I’ll first ask you, do you agree with his conclusions, and do you have any thoughts?

JD: I think his argument is a good one, in that, from an evolutionary perspective, we’re built to be attentive to things that tend to grab our attention, and we tend to lose focus. We’re very much attuned to things like motion, activity, color, and flashes, because those all had evolutionary importance to us.  So it’s easy to become captivated by all the different things that we see on computers, on the web, and all the other devices that we have around us.  But it doesn’t mean that that is our destiny. I think he oversimplifies it a little bit.  Just because we have an evolutionary tendency to do something, that doesn’t mean we can’t make adjustments, contemporary adjustments, to have that simulation work for us.

MT: This is Maura Thomas from Thanks for listening to part one of my interview with Dr. John Dovidio, psychology professor at Yale University.  I hope you’ll come back tomorrow to hear or read our discussion of the differences in the effects of media-multitasking in children’s brains vs. adult brains. Also, if you’re interested in reading up on the current research, please visit the “Research and Resources” page of this website. Thanks for visiting!

(Click here for Part 2 of the interview.)