Multitasking May Harm Memory

MULTITASKING CAN HARM MEMORY People who learn something new while multitasking are less able to recall what they've learned later on, researchers from the University of California at Los Angeles found in a new study. They tested subjects on a simple memory task while at the same time asking them to count the number of random tones they heard while learning. Multitasking didn't harm memory during the learning but appeared to make it more difficult to retrieve what was learned later. Writing about these results in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, neuroscientists speculate that having distractions around when you're trying to make a new memory causes the distractions to get so tangled up with the memory that you end up needing the distraction to be able to get the memory back out of storage. For example, if you listen to the radio while studying for a test, you end up needing the music to be recall what you learned. The memory recall becomes less flexible and more dependent on the situation.

MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS IN THE FAMILY Men with multiple sclerosis may be twice as likely to pass it on to their kids as women who have MS, researchers found after studying 206 families. In most cases of multiple sclerosis, the cause is unknown, but in 15 percent of the cases a parent or other family member within a generation also has the disease. Scientists believe that a group of genes causes the disease rather than a single gene, and that men perhaps carry more of these genes. These findings by researchers from the Mayo Clinic, the University of California at San Francisco, the University of California at Berkeley and Kaiser Permanente were published this week in the journal Neurology.

DAD'S SIDE MISSED MORE Patients are more likely to report a family history of breast cancer on their mother's side of the family than on their father's side, despite the fact that both sides should have an equal chance of being affected by breast cancer. Researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University Massey Cancer Center and the University of Washington, Seattle, looked at two years of survey data on patients and found that 16 percent reported a relative on their mother's side with breast cancer compared with 10 percent on their father's side. Since a patient's family history is an important way to screen for breast cancer, such inaccurate reporting could affect breast cancer screenings. In discussing their results in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the authors say there are many possible reasons for the discrepancy, including patients overestimating the number of female relatives and fathers being less aware of breast cancer history in their family.

STAT is a brief look at the latest medical research and is compiled by Joanna Schaffhausen, who holds a doctorate in behavioral neuroscience. She works in the ABC News Medical Unit, evaluating medical studies, abstracts and news releases.

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