Can we really multitask? Are women better at it than men?

We can’t multitask — it makes us dumber, less productive and ends up taking more time. It’s just not how our brains work best.

Neither gender is better at it:

We find that multitasking significantly lowers performance in cognitive tasks compared to a sequential execution. This suggests that the costs of switching, which include recalling the rules, details and steps executed thus far, outweigh the benefit of a ’fresheye’. Note that this effect differs from the one found by Coviello et al. (2010). In their model, every new task takes resources away from the other active tasks which are closer to being completed, and juggling more tasks consequently increases the average duration of task-completion. Our results show that multitasking is bad for productivity even if one is not concerned with average duration.

And:

We do not find any evidence for gender differences in the ability to multitask. Besides, the share of switchers is exactly the same for men and women and the average number of switches is higher for men. Thus, the results contradict the claims of Fisher (1999): if men think so much more linearly than women, why don’t they insist more on a sequential schedule? Moreover, why is it that women do not adapt better to multitasking than men when forced to alternate? In sum, the view that women are better at multitasking is not supported by our findings.

Source: “Multitasking: Productivity Effects and Gender Differences” from TI 2011-044/3, Tinbergen Institute Discussion Paper

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About Eric Barker