Belfast Telegraph

Friday 26 December 2014

Women 'multitask better than men'

A study tested men and women on how well they were able to switch rapidly between two simple computer tasks
A study tested men and women on how well they were able to switch rapidly between two simple computer tasks

It's official - scientists have shown that women are better at multitasking than men.

The popular belief was tested by researchers who measured the ability of men and women to carry out multiple tasks. Both in the laboratory and more real world situations, women came out top.

Although many people are convinced women are better than men at focusing on different jobs at once, very little research has been conducted to test this hypothesis.

In the first part of the study, 120 men and 120 women were tested on how well they can switch rapidly between two simple computer tasks.

Participants had to respond to geometrical objects shown on a screen by pressing a button on their right or left side. Response times were measured when they did just one task at a time, or quickly switched between two tasks.

Both men and women slowed down when alternating between two tasks, but men became more sluggish. Their performance speed slowed by 77% compared with 69% for women.

In the "real world" multitasking test, a different group of 47 men and the same number of women faced three everyday challenges.

They were asked to sketch out how they would attempt a search for a set of lost keys in a field, to locate restaurants on a map, and to solve simple maths questions.

Volunteers were also told to expect a phone call during the test. If they chose to answer the phone, they had to answer general knowledge questions such as naming the capital of France. They had eight minutes to complete as much of each task as possible.

Women taking part in the test developed far better strategies for finding the lost keys, said Professor Keith Laws, from the University of Hertfordshire.

"This one significant advantage for women on the key search task suggests that they may be superior at tasks requiring high-level cognitive control, particularly planning, monitoring and inhibition," he said.

Lead researcher Dr Gijsbert Stoet, from the University of Glasgow's School of Psychology, said: "The study of sex differences in basic tests of mental functioning are incredibly important. It not just helps us to better understand about how gender differences might have emerged throughout our evolutionary past, but also to link this to the question of why boys and men suffer more from attentional disorders than women.

"While our results are interesting, they still represent only a very specific set of multi-tasking tasks which tested a limited area of cognitive ability. More research is required before we can draw any definite conclusions and provide explanations as to precisely why women appear from our evidence to be better multi-taskers."

The study is published in the online journal BMC Psychology.

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