Today, most of us would acknowledge that when we choose to multitask, we are introducing an element of risk or some deterioration in our performance. For example, few would dispute that talking on the phone while driving is dangerous, and that trying to listen to a colleague while we answer an email is a less than an effective way to handle either situation. However, many people have said to me, “I understand your point about the need to decrease multitasking, but we, women are pretty good at it…we have to be with all of our responsibilities.” Having heard this enough, I wanted to find out if there was any scientific evidence behind this belief.
First, I found out that this idea that women are better than men at multitasking is an international belief. An online survey of 488 participants, located in various countries including the US, found that over 50% of those surveyed believed that there is a gender difference. And, 80% of those that thought there was a difference, stated that women are better. When asked why they believed this, the main reasons related to the fact that women are usually the ones responsible for managing children, the household, and often a job (Szameitat, Hamaida, Tulley, Savlik, & Otermans, 2015).
It’s interesting how stereotypes can arise without any true evidence to support them. But, sometimes stereotypes accurately reflect underlying differences. So, to answer the original question, “Are women better at multitasking than men?”, I reviewed recently published, peer-reviewed scholarly studies on this topic to find an answer. It seems that Hirnstein, Laroi, & Laloyaux, (2018) just published an experimental design study utilizing computer simulations to test the hypothesis of gender differences in multitasking. The overall conclusion was that they found no evidence of performance differences between the sexes.
So, now we know. There’s no performance difference in multi-tasking between the sexes. Yet, how many of you are still thinking that’s just one study? That more studies will come out and show the truth? This belief, built on years of stereotypes, may still be fighting to be right. You know, the intention of this blog was to explore gender differences in multitasking, but to me, it ended up being about the power of stereotypes. The thought I leave you with is this: what stereotypes or beliefs do you accept without questioning or without any evidence to support it? Our mindfulness practice helps us slow down our thinking processes so that we can evaluate and make conscious choices about how we think, feel, act, and relate to others. This ability helps us to develop our critical thinking skills and to be able to decide for ourselves what is true. And oh, by the way, your practice can also help you decrease unproductive multitasking…
Hirnstein, Marco, Laroi, Frank, & Laloyaux (2018). No sex difference in an everyday multitasking paradigm. Psychological Research, 82(1). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-018-1045-0.
Poljac, E., Kiesel, A., Koch, I., & Müller, H. (2018). New perspectives on human multitasking. Psychological Research Psycholo gische Forschung, 82(1), 1–3. https://doi.org/10.1007/s0042 6-018-0970-2.
Szameitat AJ, Hamaida Y, Tulley RS, Saylik R, Otermans PCJ (2015) “Women Are Better Than Men”–Public Beliefs on Gender Differences and Other Aspects in Multitasking. PLoS ONE 10(10): e0140371. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0140371.