Everyone works slower when they have to multitask, but a new study published in
BMC Psychologyshows that women might be better at multitasking than men.
Irwin Silverman and Marion Eals first proposed this difference — which they think dates back to the hunter-gatherer society and that women actually evolved to become better at multitasking. Men were expected to hunt, and women had to gather food while simultaneously keeping track of the kids.
To understand which gender is better at handing multiple tasks in the modern world, a team of researchers led by Gijsbert Stoet from the University of Glasgow designed two experiments to test who was better at multitasking.
The first experiment tested how quickly and efficiently men and women could switch back and forth between different tasks. They tested 120 men and 120 women using a computer simulation that required them to complete one or two simple tasks, and the researchers measured how quickly they completed each task.
All participants worked much faster when they were only asked to complete one task at a time. The slow down came when the participants had to switch back and forth between the two tasks to complete them both.
Women in the study were 69% slower when they had to switch back and forth, while men were 77% slower.
The researchers noticed that the women adjusted faster to their new task when the program switched, which could be what makes them the better multitaskers.
The second experiment tested how well the participants could manage multiple, more realistic tasks. Each participant had eight minutes to complete three different tasks: locating places on a map, solving a few maths problems, and designing a way to search a field for a lost set of keys.
It was up to the participant to decide which order to do the tasks in and how long to spend on each. The participants also received a phone call four minutes into their test, and could choose whether or not to answer it. When they picked up the phone they had to answer eight general knowledge questions.
Men and women were for the most part equally successful at the map and maths tasks, but women performed significantly better on the lost keys task — the task designed to measure how well their brains could transition into navigating complex space. The researchers concluded that under these conditions women were the more efficient multitaskers.
This is one of the first studies comparing how men and women multitask, so the researchers hope to expand the study and learn more.
Previous studies have found that people who boast about being good at multitasking are actually the worst at it. About 70% of us think were better than the average person at multitasking, when in reality studies have shown that only about 2% of us are actually good at it.
Not only are most of us bad at multitasking, it is killing our productivity. Our brains can only handle a certain amount of information at a time, and if we flood it with too much information it slows us down.
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