Women beat men in combining tasks, especially under pressure.
It seems to be a common belief that women perform better than men at multi-tasking, but there has not been any scientific evidence for that so far. Or at least until Oct. 24th 2013, when for the first time the paper entitled “Are women better than men at multi-tasking?” appeared in the journal BMC psychology.
The authors conducted two experiments on two different groups of people, divided by gender. ‘Men’, the scientists say, ‘are slower and less organized than women when they have to switch fast from one activity to the other, at least in some cases’. This includes regular office activities such as writing an email, answering the phone, getting in or out of meetings.
In particular, the researchers explain, women perform better under pressure, for instance if they are looking for something. ‘Women are more reflexive and organized, while men are more impulsive and chaotic’. The researchers explain the result as an inheritance of evolution. Since the prehistory, men were expected to accomplish ‘linear tasks’ such as killing the prey, while women were busy with cooking, housekeeping ánd educating the children. ‘If women had not been multi-tasking since the beginning, we would not be here now’, the psychologists point out.
In the first experiment the authors tested the performance of 120 men and 120 women with a computer. The test consisted of tasks of different nature, including basic mathematical computations and recognition of shapes. If they were doing the exercises one at a time men and women performed equally. But when the activities were mixed, men were significantly slower (with a delay of 77% over women) and made more mistakes.
In the second test men and women had 8 minutes to accomplish a long series of tasks. The test consisted of understanding how men and women concluded the requested activities that could vary from finding restaurants on a map, making simple math computations, answering the phone or deciding the best strategy to find a key in a field, just like ‘looking for a needle in a haystack’. In all tasks women performed better. ‘Differences between the two genders exist and are evident’, the authors say, ‘and denying them makes no sense’.
Gijsbert Stoet, Daryl B O’Connor, Mark Conner, Keith R Laws (2013). Are women better than men at multi-tasking? BMC psychology DOI: 10.1186/2050-7283-1-18
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