While in the past, it was believed that walking and doing another task at the same time leads to both of these activities suffering, researchers from the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience at the University of Rochester are proving this to be false – at least in some cases!
More precisely, they found that some young and healthy people manage to actually improve cognitive functions while walking due to changing the use of their neural resources.
This is, of course, exciting news for some situations but it does not necessarily mean you should work on a really important assignment for instance, while walking off a big lunch.
Biomedical engineering Ph.D. student at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry and the lead author of the study published in Cerebral Cortex, explained that “There was no predictor of who would fall into which category before we tested them, we initially thought that everyone would respond similarly. It was surprising that for some of the subjects it was easier for them to do dual-tasking—do more than one task—compared to single tasking—doing each task separately. This was interesting and unexpected because most studies in the field show that the more tasks that we have to do concurrently the lower our performance gets.”
The researchers used the Mobile Brain/Body Imaging system, also known as MoBI to monitor the volunteers’ brain activity while doing their tasks.
The participants were 26 in total, all healthy and between the ages of 18 and 30.
While monitored, they were asked to look at a number of images while sitting down as well as while walking on a treadmill.
They were also required to click a button every time an image changed but not if the same image showed up back to back.
The performance achieved in this test while sitting down was considered their “baseline.”
But when they were walking, different behaviors happened, some of them doing worse than their baseline while others improved their results.
The EEG data gathered showed that 14 of them, the ones who improved, had a change in frontal brain function, suggesting an increased flexibility or efficiency in their brains.
As for the other 12 who did not, this change in their frontal brain function was absent.
Patelaki says that “To the naked eye, there were no differences in our participants. It wasn’t until we started analyzing their behavior and brain activity that we found the surprising difference in the group’s neural signature and what makes them handle complex dual-tasking processes differently. These findings have the potential to be expanded and translated to populations where we know that flexibility of neural resources gets compromised.”