Experiment proves that women are better multitaskers than men

Jul 21, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Researchers at the University of Hertfordshire, UK, have conducted research providing definitive evidence that women can multitask more effectively than men.

Professor Keith Laws at the University's School of Psychology looked at in 50 male and 50 female undergraduates and found that although the sexes performed equally when they multitasked on simple maths and map reading tasks, far excelled men when it came to planning how to search for a lost key, with 70 per cent of women performing better than their average male counterparts.

“The search for the lost key task, which involved giving the men and women a blank sheet of paper representing a field and asking them to draw how they would search for the key, revealed that women planned more strategically than men,” said Professor Laws. “I was surprised by this result given the arguments that men have better spatial skills than women.”

Professor Laws was also surprised that despite the universal notion that women are better than men at multitasking, their review of the literature unearthed no previous scientific evidence to support this claim.

The participants in Professor Laws study, who were undergraduates at the University, had eight minutes to do several tasks at the same time, such as simple maths problems, map reading, answering a telephone caller asking general knowledge questions and showing the strategy they would use to search for an imaginary lost key in a field.

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User comments : 28

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Alphakronik
1.8 / 5 (6) Jul 21, 2010
Just as long as it's not putting on make-up while driving and texting, sipping on a Venti Low Fat Carmel Mochiato.

Jigga
2 / 5 (7) Jul 21, 2010
women can multitask more effectively than men
Only during routine tasks, which doesn't require a deep concentration. BTW Did anybody see a good woman juggler?
Javinator
4.1 / 5 (7) Jul 21, 2010
The study says that they were essentially equal at multitasking tasks, but when given the task of planning to look for a key in a field (I'm sorry, but I don't see that as multitasking... that's a single task), 70% of the women did better.

I really don't see how they drew the conclusion displayed in the title based on that.

A sample size of 100 undergraduates likely of similar age that are likely in similar programs. Talk about a diverse study...

This sounds like some kind of highschool project in psychology, not "research providing definitive evidence that women can multitask more effectively than men"
bfast
4.6 / 5 (7) Jul 21, 2010
Knowing my wife and I, she has had WAY more experience at needing to look for lost keys than I have. I propose that women have more experience in loosing keys, therefore having more experience in looking for keys. I propose that this accounts for the data.
DamienS
4 / 5 (4) Jul 21, 2010
"women far excelled men when it came to planning how to search for a lost key"

And while they're doing all this superior planning, the men have already found the key!

LOL, the uselessness of this article leads one to chauvinistic humor...
MarkyMark
3.3 / 5 (3) Jul 22, 2010
Finaly a solution to lost keys. Now all we need to do is learn how to train Women as 'key sniffers'.

Seriously tho that study has so many flaws to it [which have been commented before me] its laughable.
morepork
3.3 / 5 (3) Jul 22, 2010
I would propose that the high vaunted "ability to multitask", is inversely proportional the commonly underrated ability to concentrate on a single task.

I know the media loves telling women how awesome they are, but there are a lot of complex tasks where the ability to filter out distractions is vital.
Donutz
4.7 / 5 (3) Jul 22, 2010
I remember a "study" that looked into why men paid less attention to women's voices than to men's. The "study" "concluded" that women's voices can carry more information than men's and male brains can't handle the overload. Honest to god.
When you dig a little deeper, turns out the "more information" conclusion was based on the higher frequency of women's voices, which in modems means higher baud rates. Of course in human language a word has the same amount of information regardless of pitch. The point is that if you go into a study determined to prove something, you can always find a way to spin the facts to support your stance.

BTW, the reason men pay more attention to deeper voices is because evolutionarily speaking other men are more likely to be an immediate threat.
Donutz
4.7 / 5 (3) Jul 22, 2010
And another thing (sez he, donning his rant-cloak)... It's interesting that they (whoever "they" are) can conclude that women are better at multitasking, but if I was to suggest that this study proves that men are better at concentrating on and completing a given task, I'd be lambasted with charges of chauvinism and sexism. Apparently women can be better at stuff, but men can't.
End rant.
Donutz
4.7 / 5 (3) Jul 22, 2010

And while they're doing all this superior planning, the men have already found the key!


This reminds me of a conversation with a former boss about why we should preferentially hire younger IT people: because they can easily (and happily) work 18 hours solid to get a broken server working. To which I replied: Or you can hire the tired old vet who will walk up, look at it for 5 seconds, slap it on the side, and it's fixed.

frajo
5 / 5 (1) Jul 23, 2010
but there are a lot of complex tasks where the ability to filter out distractions is vital.
And that's why there are so few women soloists singing/playing along/against a full orchestra in classical music?

I'm always amused how thin-skinned some men are when it comes to gender comparisons.
denijane
3.7 / 5 (3) Jul 23, 2010
It's amazing how many opinions one can get all defending the supremeness of men over women! While the article says it all:
"The participants had eight minutes to do several tasks at the same time, such as simple maths problems, map reading, answering a telephone caller asking general knowledge questions and showing the strategy they would use to search for an imaginary lost key in a field."

All the participants had to do all the tasks in the SAME TIME! Not just looking for a key, but doing many things at once. Which is a real multitasking. But you can't even get the idea of multitasking seriously!

Of course women are better at multitasking - they have to care for children. Try watching over children, cooking and talking on the phone in the same time. And maybe also making sure the dog won't eat the dinner. This is not easy.But most women do it all the time.This ability is not only a good thing - it's very bad during sex for example. But it's how it is.Men are better in other things.
Javinator
3.5 / 5 (2) Jul 23, 2010
How could you possibly display that you were performing all of those tasks at the same time?

You couldn't verbally do it since you're answering questions on the phone which leaves you with two hands to show that you're reading a map, doing simple math, and planning for a lost key.

The article's less than clear about the test methods the study used to prove its point.

Also I never said that women aren't better multitaskers, just that this study is not conclusive and shouldn't be touted as proof as it is stated in the title of this article.
otto1923
not rated yet Jul 23, 2010
but there are a lot of complex tasks where the ability to filter out distractions is vital.
And that's why there are so few women soloists singing/playing along/against a full orchestra in classical music?

I'm always amused how thin-skinned some men are when it comes to gender comparisons.
yah. Tell me frajos not a woman.
denijane
5 / 5 (1) Jul 24, 2010
How could you possibly display that you were performing all of those tasks at the same time?

Well, the article doesn't say that. Maybe they gave them 8 mins to finish everything, no matter how. Obviously, if you're on the phone all the time answering question, you have no other choice but to multitask the other stuff. Maybe not all of the actions are done simultaneously but I guess even 2 actions + planning the third all the time and watching for the time qualify as multitasking.
RobertKLR
not rated yet Jul 24, 2010
Humans do not multitask. They do a little of this, a little of that, and a little more of this, and a little more of that. In other words when people say they are multitasking what they mean is that it's going to be a while before they get anything done, if they get anything done at all.
frajo
not rated yet Jul 25, 2010
In other words when people say they are multitasking what they mean is that it's going to be a while before they get anything done, if they get anything done at all.
No. Multitasking people are able to begin several tasks before having finished with the other ones and finish all the tasks. Non-multitasking people get confused when they have to begin a second task before they were able to finish the first task.
Whether there's a speed penalty for multitasking remains to be seen. But one thing's for sure: There's a heavy fun penalty for multitasking. Or does someone like to listen to two radio stations at the same time?

[Why doesn't English have one word for "at the same time" like other languages?]
denijane
not rated yet Jul 25, 2010
Quite the opposite - humans multitask ALL the time - after all we breath all the time, our hearts beat and our brain process a HUGE amount of information, only part of which gets to our awareness. We do multitask unconsciously, the problem is when you do it on purpose.

It's very funny how when my boyfriend wants to tell me something and sees that I'm doing something else, he stops and waits. And I always tell him "go on, I'm listening". :)

As for the fun penalty - it's because we (for example women) cannot switch our modes easily - from multi to completely focused. But the example with the radios...I listen to the radio while reading articles and doing other stuff. I don't feel my fun to decrease, I like it like this. For example I find only listening to the radio for a waste of time. Listening and dancing is much better.
I'm writing now, while I'm talking on the phone. :)
johnno
1 / 5 (1) Jul 25, 2010
Javinator - If you read the article, it is clear that they are not doing the tasks at the same time, but spreading their time across the tasks - how could it be otherwise. Therefore, while working under a time limit (8 mins) to solve loits of problems in a variety of domains,
women turn out to be superior on one (searching for a key) - which interestingly, is the one task that requires planning and organisation.

what would count as definitive evidence for you and why (seriously - inform us)
...I suspect we will hear nothing because ...from your opinions that you would only be staisfied by a study that showed men have superior multitasking skills
Musashi
5 / 5 (1) Jul 25, 2010
[Why doesn't English have one word for "at the same time" like other languages?]


Like "simultaneously"?
johnno
5 / 5 (1) Jul 25, 2010
concurrently, synchronously, accompanying, coinciding, contemporaneous, coincident, concurring,...together!
Put a thesaurus on the christmas present list
RobertKLR
not rated yet Jul 26, 2010
In other words when people say they are multitasking what they mean is that it's going to be a while before they get anything done, if they get anything done at all.
No. Multitasking people are able to begin several tasks before having finished with the other ones and finish all the tasks. Non-multitasking people get confused when they have to begin a second task before they were able to finish the first task.
Whether there's a speed penalty for multitasking remains to be seen. But one thing's for sure: There's a heavy fun penalty for multitasking. Or does someone like to listen to two radio stations at the same time?

[Why doesn't English have one word for "at the same time" like other languages?]


No, multitasking people never finish anything.
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (1) Jul 26, 2010
Why doesn't English have one word for "at the same time" like other languages?
Which other languages only have one word or phrase for "at the same time"? I can't recall a language that is single threaded in this manner. All of the romance languages have multiple translations and all the germanic languages have multiple translations.

Javinator
not rated yet Jul 26, 2010
Javinator - If you read the article, it is clear that they are not doing the tasks at the same time, but spreading their time across the tasks - how could it be otherwise. Therefore, while working under a time limit (8 mins) to solve loits of problems in a variety of domains,


All the participants had to do all the tasks in the SAME TIME! Not just looking for a key, but doing many things at once. Which is a real multitasking. But you can't even get the idea of multitasking seriously!


I was addressing the second comment.

Also where did this 8 minute time limit come from? I read the article and it's definitely not mentioned.

I suspect we will hear nothing because ...from your opinions that you would only be staisfied by a study that showed men have superior multitasking skills


I'm concerned with the test method and the vague article. If the study "proved" men as superior my concerns would remain the same.
denijane
not rated yet Jul 26, 2010
I don't understand where's the problem with men and women having different strong sides. Nobody says that there are no good male multitaskers, just that women do it much more easily.

As for the research, I have no idea why it's 8 minutes and not 9 or 10, but is this that important? The participants got tasks to complete and I guess the researches calculated that this time limit will guarantee some percentage of multitasking. It's not as you can read participant's minds and say how much they multitasked and how much they just did quickly. But if I understand it correctly, they did at least 2 actions in the same time - speaking on the phone and everything else. + also planning their next actions. Which genuine makes it multitasking (3 simultaneous actions!).
And if you really want to question the research, write a scientifically argumented paper and put it in arxiv.org. Everything else is not serious.
Javinator
not rated yet Jul 26, 2010
The people who performed this study never wrote "a scientifically argumented paper and put it in arxiv.org" which is part of why I doubted it.

http://clearingho.../815.php

If there was a link to Laws' study more like the link I posted about I probably wouldn't fight the results of their study as much. The linked study actually states similar results (albeit with a smaller sample size) to the one we've been commenting on which is pretty interesting. Not saying the study I posted is proof either (it appears to be the work of an undergrad), but at least there's information about experimental method, results, etc.

Again, I only ever said I had a problem with the idea that this specific study/story is considered "proof" of anything. It's evidence. Just like the study I posted the link for.
There's a significant difference between evidence and proof.
denijane
not rated yet Jul 26, 2010
If there's no article in arxiv.org, maybe they want to publish it first and then to put it online? I disapprove such behavior, but I have seen articles in astro-ph that have as a first version the already published in a journal article. It's kind of old-fashioned, but some people simply love the old fashion.
And if they don't intend to publish it in any way (besides here), I have no idea what's the point of the research or its value. Maybe it's just part of someone's phd thesis or a bigger study...

And yes, you're right, there is a difference between evidence and proof, though I'm not sure in such experiments what would make it a proof. And as we know, physorg articles tend to have problems with using the correct words, so maybe it's not even authors fault. Who knows...
Javinator
not rated yet Jul 26, 2010
It was an "informal study" according to some other articles I found.

http://www.digita...e/294878