The multitasking framework: the effects of increasing workload on acute psychobiological stress reactivity

Stress Health. 2014 Apr;30(2):103-9. doi: 10.1002/smi.2496. Epub 2013 May 30.


A variety of techniques exist for eliciting acute psychological stress in the laboratory; however, they vary in terms of their ease of use, reliability to elicit consistent responses and the extent to which they represent the stressors encountered in everyday life. There is, therefore, a need to develop simple laboratory techniques that reliably elicit psychobiological stress reactivity that are representative of the types of stressors encountered in everyday life. The multitasking framework is a performance-based, cognitively demanding stressor, representative of environments where individuals are required to attend and respond to several different stimuli simultaneously with varying levels of workload. Psychological (mood and perceived workload) and physiological (heart rate and blood pressure) stress reactivity was observed in response to a 15-min period of multitasking at different levels of workload intensity in a sample of 20 healthy participants. Multitasking stress elicited increases in heart rate and blood pressure, and increased workload intensity elicited dose-response increases in levels of perceived workload and mood. As individuals rarely attend to single tasks in real life, the multitasking framework provides an alternative technique for modelling acute stress and workload in the laboratory.

Keywords: cardiovascular reactivity; mood; multitasking framework; psychobiological stress reactivity; stress; workload demand.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect / physiology
  • Arousal / physiology
  • Blood Pressure / physiology
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Psychological Tests*
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology
  • Workload / psychology*