Are women better multitaskers?

Issued: Tue, 26 Nov 2013 14:28:00 GMT

New research from a team of psychologists supports the popular perception that women are better at multitasking than men. Researchers from the Universities of Glasgow, Hertfordshire and Leeds measured volunteers’ ability to carry out multiple tasks in laboratory and more real-world situations. They found that women demonstrated a distinct advantage over men in specific aspects of both multitasking situations.

In the first test, men and women completed a computer-based challenge measuring how well they could rapidly switch between two simple tasks.

Both men and women slow down when rapidly switching between two tasks compared doing one task at the time; what is important, though, is that men slowed more than women. This indicates that women had less difficulty with multi-tasking than men.

A different group of men and women participated in the second test, which aimed to measure multitasking in three tasks that are more common to everyday life.

They were asked to sketch out how they would attempt a search for a set of lost keys in a field; to locate restaurants on a map; and solve simple arithmetical questions. They were also told to expect to receive a phone call during the test.

If they chose to answer the phone, they asked to answer some general-knowledge questions, such as naming the capital of France. They had eight minutes to complete as much of each task as possible.

In this realistic task, women developed far better strategies for finding the lost keys.

‘The study of sex differences in basic tests of mental functioning are incredibly important,’ says Dr Gijsbert Stoet at the School of Psychology. ‘It not only helps us to better understand about how gender differences might have emerged throughout our evolutionary past, but also to link this to the question of why boys and men suffer more from attentional disorders than women.’

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