Both Men and Women are Equally Bad at Multitasking

A new study debunks a popular stereotype

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Contrary to the popular stereotype, women are not better multitaskers than men, confirms a study.

The study, “No sex difference in an everyday multitasking paradigm”, which was published in the journal Psychological Research, was based on the results of a computerized meeting preparation task (CMPT), which required 82 males and 66 females in the 18-60 age group to prepare a room for a meeting and handle various tasks and distractors in the process. As part of the study, the participant group found themselves in a virtual 3D space, which included three rooms: a kitchen, storage space and a main area with tables and a projection screen.

The participants were asked to make the room ready for a meeting by placing chairs, pencils and drinks in the right location, while at the same time dealing with distractions such as a missing chair and a phone call, and to remember actions to be carried out in the future.

The results showed that none of the multitasking measures (accuracy, total time, total distance covered by the avatar, a prospective memory score, and a distractor management score) showed any sex differences, say the study researchers from the University of Bergen, University of Oslo in Norway, and the University of Liège in Belgium.

“The findings are in line with other studies that found no or only small gender differences in everyday multitasking abilities. However, there is still too little data available to conclude if, and in which multitasking paradigms, gender differences arise,” explain the researchers.

They conclude by saying, despite bold claims that “All the available research agrees: men’s brains are specialised. Compartmentalised. […] a man’s brain is configured for one thing at a time […]” while “A woman’s brain is configured for multitasking performance”, the empirical evidence for a behavioural sex difference in multitasking is sparse and inconsistent, in particular, when it comes to serial multitasking abilities. The present study sought to add data to the discussion of whether the alleged female superiority exists by assessing males’ and females’ performance in an already established everyday situation multitasking paradigm. “Given the heterogeneous findings so far, we had no specific hypothesis as to whether a sex difference exists.”

Pooja Singh

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A stickler for details, Pooja Singh likes telling people stories. She has previously worked with Mint-Hindustan Times, Down To Earth and Asian News International-Reuters.