Putting a stereotype to the test: The case of gender differences in multitasking costs in task-switching and dual-task situations

PLoS One. 2019 Aug 14;14(8):e0220150. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0220150. eCollection 2019.

Abstract

According to a popular stereotype, women are better at multitasking than men, but empirical evidence for gender differences in multitasking performance is mixed. Previous work has focused on specific aspects of multitasking or has not considered gender differences in abilities contributing to multitasking performance. We therefore tested gender differences (N = 96, 50% female) in sequential (i.e., task switching) and concurrent (i.e., dual tasking) multitasking, while controlling for possible gender differences in working memory, processing speed, spatial abilities, and fluid intelligence. Applying two standard experimental paradigms allowed us to test multitasking abilities across five different empirical indices (i.e., performance costs) for both reaction time (RT) and accuracy measures, respectively. Multitasking resulted in substantial performance costs across all experimental conditions without a single significant gender difference in any of these ten measures, even when controlling for gender differences in underlying cognitive abilities. Thus, our results do not confirm the widespread stereotype that women are better at multitasking than men at least in the popular sequential and concurrent multitasking settings used in the present study.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Multitasking Behavior / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Reaction Time / physiology*
  • Sex Factors
  • Stereotyping*
  • Task Performance and Analysis*
  • Young Adult

Grant support

This research was funded by DFG grant KO 2045/19-1 (www.dfg.de) in the context of the DFG Priority Program 1772 (Human performance under multiple cognitive task requirements: From basic mechanisms to optimized task scheduling; awarded to Iring Koch). The funders had no role in the study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. There was no additional external funding received for this study.