Women aren’t better at multitasking after all, study says

If you've ever fallen back on that old stereotype that women are somehow better at multitasking than men, a study released Wednesday may make you change your tune. Full credit: Ute Grabowsky/Photothek/Getty Images

If you’ve ever fallen back on that old stereotype that women are somehow better at multitasking than men, a study released Wednesday may make you change your tune.

The study was conducted by two university psychologists in Germany and published in the journal PLOS One. It found that when faced with the most common forms of multitasking, women and men of similar age and physical and cognitive abilities performed to almost the exact same level.

Researchers asked 96 men and women to complete simple sets of tasks that were combined to mimic the different ways people typically multitask: Sometimes, people perform two tasks at once; sometimes, they start a second task before the first is done; sometimes, they switch back and forth. Often, the two tasks require two very different sets of cognitive demands.

“Multitasking resulted in substantial performance costs across all experimental conditions without a single significant gender difference in any of these ten measures, even when controlling for gender differences in underlying cognitive abilities,” the authors concluded. “Thus, our results do not confirm the widespread stereotype that women are better at multitasking than men at least in the popular sequential and concurrent multitasking settings used in the present study.”

In other words, multitasking in general hurts performances in both tasks, but gender doesn’t seem to have anything to do with it.

The researchers note that some research has found gender differences in both multitasking and the cognitive abilities required to do it. For instance, studies have found women to have an edge on multitasking but men to have, say, better spatial reasoning abilities.

However, the researchers on the new study argue that their experimental process best compares, apples-to-apples, the abilities of men and women and the conditions under which they usually multitask.

Now, before you go waving this in the face of your wife or partner, remember that this study found the two genders performed equally well. So maybe instead of gloating, you could, you know, take a task or two off their plate. For science.

Notice: you are using an outdated browser. Microsoft does not recommend using IE as your default browser. Some features on this website, like video and images, might not work properly. For the best experience, please upgrade your browser.