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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Are women better than men at multi-tasking?

Gijsbert Stoet1*, Daryl B O’Connor2, Mark Conner2 and Keith R Laws3

Author Affiliations

1 School of Education, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, Scotland, UK

2 Institute of Psychological Sciences, University of Leeds, Leeds, West Yorkshire, UK

3 School of Life and Medical Sciences, University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield, Hertfordshire, UK

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BMC Psychology 2013, 1:18  doi:10.1186/2050-7283-1-18

Published: 24 October 2013

Abstract

Background

There seems to be a common belief that women are better in multi-tasking than men, but there is practically no scientific research on this topic. Here, we tested whether women have better multi-tasking skills than men.

Methods

In Experiment 1, we compared performance of 120 women and 120 men in a computer-based task-switching paradigm. In Experiment 2, we compared a different group of 47 women and 47 men on "paper-and-pencil" multi-tasking tests.

Results

In Experiment 1, both men and women performed more slowly when two tasks were rapidly interleaved than when the two tasks were performed separately. Importantly, this slow down was significantly larger in the male participants (Cohen’s d = 0.27). In an everyday multi-tasking scenario (Experiment 2), men and women did not differ significantly at solving simple arithmetic problems, searching for restaurants on a map, or answering general knowledge questions on the phone, but women were significantly better at devising strategies for locating a lost key (Cohen’s d = 0.49).

Conclusions

Women outperform men in these multi-tasking paradigms, but the near lack of empirical studies on gender differences in multitasking should caution against making strong generalisations. Instead, we hope that other researchers will aim to replicate and elaborate on our findings.