Friday, April 25, 2014

Elizabeth Street


Nov 27, 2013

Women Are Better At Multitasking Than Men & We've Got The Facts To Prove It

Are you sitting down? A new study shows women are better than men at multitasking. Shocking, we know. (Though, to be fair, the researchers also suggest there are certain advantages to men’s “one-track mind”—but we'll get to that later).

Psychologists from the Universities of Leeds, Glasgow, and Hertfordshire decided to test the common assumption that women are better “jugglers” than men. It does seem a rather presumptuous theory, once based on a vision of a Susie Homemaker-type cooking dinner, answering the phone, and keeping one eye on the kids as they finish their homework. Nowadays, for working moms negotiating job responsibilities, showing up to the kids’ plays, and caring for infirm parents, the notion seems less sexist, more just plain fact. (Of course, the study tested a small sample set, and there are definitely tons of dads who keep just as many balls in the air quite gracefully.)

However, there is “astonishingly” little empirical evidence to support the claim that women are better at multitasking. After all, “if men are really slower than women, it could have serious implications for how workplaces are organized,” Dr. Gijsbert Stoet, one of the authors of the study, told BBC News. "Multitasking is getting more and more important in the office—but it's very distracting, all these gadgets interrupting our workflow. It could be that men suffer more from this constant switching.” Who knows, perhaps these findings could even inspire employers to close the gender wage gap once and for all…

The experiment itself involved giving 120 men and 120 women a computer test that required the subject to switch between counting and shape-recognition tasks. When asked to tackle the challenges one at a time, men and women performed equally well. However, when the tasks were jumbled together, while both groups made more mistakes, men took 77 percent more time to respond than during the initial test, while women only took 69 percent longer. Eight percent may seem like a small difference, but over the course of a workday, that can sure add up.

In a second test, the two groups were given eight minutes to perform a series of tasks more relevant to daily life (locating restaurants on a map, answering a phone call, deciding how they would track down a lost key, etc.). Of course, eight minutes was too short a span to complete all of these activities, so the subjects had to figure out how to prioritize, block out their time, and work under pressure. Based on the women’s and men’s various strategies when it came to confronting these tasks, the researchers concluded that “in a stressed and complex situation, women are more able to stop and think about what's going on in front of them." Basically, women are better under pressure. Who woulda guessed it?

Psychologist Dongning Ren of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, who also conducts research on this topic, called the study “a useful addition to the scientific debate.” “In my own research, I found similar results, so this adds support for this conclusion," Dr. Ren stated in an interview with the BBC.

Of course, these are general findings. Nobody’s claiming that all men can’t multi-task, or only women can, or that this applies to all situations and types of multitasking. But why the divide? Perhaps men are programmed to be better at straightforward tasks, hypothesized the scientists. Way back when, the men had to build fires and hunt down food, so-called “linear activities.” Plus, compared to our cousins, the apes, both genders are pretty sorry multitaskers, so maybe this isn’t an ability evolution felt we really needed. But, in the modern, highly competitive, dynamic workplace, it does seem a pretty relevant asset.

Either way, it’s good to know that there’s science to support our bragging rights.

By Cordelia Tai

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h/t MSN