The age old adage 'women are better at multitasking than men' may have some scientific merit. Reporting on two experiments in BioMed Central's open access journal BMC Psychology, researchers show that under certain conditions, women have an advantage over men at multitasking.
The media is peppered with anecdotes that seem to provide evidence of women's superiority over men at multitasking. But while past research has shown that women are involved in more multi-tasking than men, there have been few scientific studies that have interrogated this widely believed claim. So, is it true? Researchers report on their experiments in a new article and conclude that women may be better when faced with specific situations.
The researchers designed two experiments to test a certain type of multitasking; situations where you're faced with many tasks but don't need to carry them out all at the same time. The first lab-based, computer experiment indicated that, in general, people are not good at multitasking, slowing down when they were asked to do more one task. Women did slow down less than men, implying they may have an advantage when faced with multitasking situations.
The researchers then went on to pit men and women against each other in an experiment designed to better simulate real world multitasking. Participants were asked to complete three different tasks in eight minutes. On top of this, during the task a phone would ring. If they chose to answer it, the participants would have to answer general knowledge questions. Although there was no difference between men and women when the entire experiment was analysed, women did score better on the task that required them to devise strategies for locating a lost key.
"Using two very different experimental set ups, we found that women have an advantage over men in specific aspects of multitasking situations," said Gijsbert Stoet, author of the paper. "The lack of other empirical studies, though, should caution against drawing strong conclusions; instead, we hope that other researchers will aim to replicate and elaborate on our findings," he continued.
- Gijsbert Stoet, Daryl B O'Connor, Mark Conner and Keith R Laws. Are women better than men at multi-tasking? BMC Psychology, October 2013
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