Women and Men Are Equally Bad at Multitasking, Study Finds

Men and women are equally bad at multitasking, according to the authors of a study that debunks the widely held view women are better at juggling jobs.

The study, published in the journal PLOS One, involved 48 men and 48 women who completed language and number tasks. In some tests, the participants had to focus on two tasks at the same time, known as concurrent multitasking, while in others they diverted their attention from one job to another, or sequential multitasking. Participants also provided demographic information and had a cognitive screening to make sure the men and women were comparable in terms of mental and physical health.

Multitasking, including mixing and switching duties, was found to make both men and women equally slower and less accurate.

Marco Andre Hirnstein, a researcher at Norway's University of Bergen who studies cognitive gender differences and did not work on this study, told Newsweek: "The findings are a piece in the mosaic: they don't ultimately verify or falsify the stereotype, which has to do with the murky concept of multitasking."

Hirnstein explained: "We all have a vague understanding of what it is, but if you are a researcher and actually want to test it there are myriad ways how to do it."

Researchers can choose to look at concurrent and sequential multitasking, and a range of tasks, from those involving computers to real-life tasks that are more difficult to control.

"In our own study, we used a virtual reality task and also didn't find any meaningful differences," said Hirnstein. "Thus we are in line with the recent article. However, there are also studies that find advantages for women, or even advantages for men."

father, baby, dad, chores, man, stock, getty,
A stock image of a father looking after a baby while on the phone. Scientists have looked at whether men or women are better at multitasking. Getty

He continued: "The stereotype is quite widespread—though not to the same degree as stereotypes about men's and women's superior spatial/mathematical and verbal abilities, respectively."

Professor Tilo Strobach of Germany's Medical School Hamburg, who has also published a study on gender stereotypes and multitasking but did not work on this research, told Newsweek: "I am not too surprised since the present findings fit to earlier studies in the field. These findings also show that gender differences are generally overrated."

"Unfortunately, this study realized only one situation with different tasks performed in sequence and different tasks performed simultaneously, which limits the conclusions and generalizations a bit (but just a bit). The number of participants could be higher; however, this is also only a minor comment," said Strobach.

He concluded: "The study shows that differences in multitasking (and potentially other cognitive and mental domains) are present between individuals rather than between different gender categories. That is, information about the gender of a person does not explain this person's performance."