Multitasking: Productivity Effects and Gender Differences

We examine how multitasking affects performance and check whether women are indeed better at multitasking. Subjects in our experiment perform two different tasks according to three treatments: one where they perform the tasks sequentially, one where they are forced to multitask, and one where they can freely organize their work. Subjects who are forced to multitask perform significantly worse than those forced to work sequentially. Surprisingly, subjects who can freely organize their own schedule also perform significantly worse. Finally, our results do not support the stereotype that women are better at multitasking. Women suffer as much as men when forced to multitask and are actually less inclined to multitask when being free to choose.

By: Thomas Buser (University of Amsterdam)
Noemi Peter (University of Amsterdam)
URL: http://d.repec.org/n?u=RePEc:dgr:uvatin:20110044&r=exp

3 thoughts on “Multitasking: Productivity Effects and Gender Differences

  1. The first time someone of the fairer sex told me she could multitask, it was with an air of arrogance; as if to say “I can do this and I bet you can’t”. I’ve encountered a similar attitude on at least one other occasion.

    However when this claim is made it is usually made with out qualifying what tasks are being multi-tasked. This has made me extremely suspicious. And given that I am aware of how the term applies to computer science I have been deeply sceptical of the claim. Now at least I can point to a study that demonstrates that the claim has very little merit (at least in a typical working environment).

    Of course if someone wants to claim that they can multitask menial work, I’m not going to argue. But it’s not a skill that I would put on my resume.

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