David Badre
Princeton University Press
2020 | 312pp | £25
ISBN 9780691175553

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Have you ever wondered why working from home is so hard? On Task delves deep into understanding how to give your brain cues about the work it is supposed to be doing and how to boost your memory.

David Badre, a professor of cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences, describes how our brain is set up to recognise situations, execute a sequence of actions and get distracted by specific stimuli. He skilfully interweaves important historical experiments that uncovered key insights into our thought processes with easy to understand examples, such as what goes on in our brains when we try to do something as simple as making a cup of coffee.

As an avid digital notetaker who has often struggled with organising my notes, I particularly enjoyed the chapters about information retrieval. These sections explain the algorithms that search engines like Google use and how they rank information in relation to its probable usefulness. I also liked learning about how these algorithms relate to processes that occur in our own brain every time we are trying to recall information. It’s fascinating to think about how search engine algorithms are designed to process information in ways that are modelled after processes in our brains. And while you can’t read the source code for your brain, you can certainly do so for a search engine.

One slight criticism I had reading this book as a non-neuroscientist was that the references to specific parts of the brain became a little overwhelming. Although most of these references are accompanied by labelled diagrams, I found myself forgetting the names of lobes and structures mentioned previously. As someone who is more interested in how things happen in our brain rather than what structures are involved, it was hard for me to follow the discussion without taking notes. However, I think this would be a good introduction for anyone who either has a background in neuroscience or is interested in learning about specific structures in the brain.Despite this, I would definitely recommend On Task to anyone who is interested in metacognition and understanding how your brain makes decisions.

I wanted to end this review with a joke about memory, but I simply can’t remember it.