Multitasking: is it madness?


Multitasking is something we all believe we do quite well. I personally consider myself an expert; I’m almost as good at multitasking as I am at procrastinating. The difference between the two, is that procrastination is a ‘universal state of being for humans’, and those who can manage delay are ‘more successful and happier’, according to Frank Partnoy in an interview with Smithsonian. Whereas only about 5% of people can multitask effectively, as for the other 95% of people, there have been several studies that prove the ‘negative effects of multitasking in learning environments’. As a student, who believes I can multitask – this is very bad news.

A study involving 62 students was conducted to test the effect of multitasking on the grade performance of business students. All students were to attend the same lecture; half were to turn their phones off while the other half were allowed to text during the lecture, and all students were to complete the same test at the conclusion of the lecture. Ellis, Daniels & Jauregui (2010) found that performance of student’s texting during the lecture was significantly worse than that of the students who were not.

This is actually terrible news for me as a student who takes both a laptop and mobile phone into lectures. Although I’m not disappointed in my performance, I now know that I am not achieving my full potential due to my ignorance… great.

Anyway – carrying on – the study extended the analysis to gender. We all know the old saying that claims men can’t multitask whereas women can, right? Yeah, well it turns out that’s totally wrong; the results showed, and I quote, ‘that there is no significant difference between the quiz scores of males versus females’ (Ellis et. al. 2010). I know, again, this is horrible news for me and I’m sure I’m not the only one to be surprised by this information. If you don’t believe me, just see for yourself.

After learning this new information, I couldn’t help but stick to my beliefs of women (generally) being the superior gender when it comes to multitasking. Considering this study relates specifically to students learning capacity, I decided to look a little further. I came across a study conducted by Timo Mäntylä whereby participants ability to multitask was assessed using a computerized task comprising four component tasks. The study basically found that gender differences reflect spatial ability and that ‘participants with efficient updating functions were better multitaskers than participants with less-efficient control functions’ (Mäntylä 2013). These people were generally males as results suggest that men outperformed women on three counter tasks. And again, this has been very difficult to comprehend. I went in search of evidence to support my cause and found the results proved the total opposite to what I desired. I give up.

So as I sit here, eating my breakfast, reading articles, responding to text messages, refreshing my Facebook feed and writing this blog… I raise my first, shaking it in the air and say, ‘you don’t know me, science!’ Because really, as Ellen highlights in this clip below, there are plenty of ways that we can multitask, and I don’t think it always has the capacity to negatively impact productivity or the outcomes of a task. Anyway, I think I’ll stick to this belief, even if it means I’m living my life in denial from now on, just pretending that I’m one of minority who can multitask effectively, just to justify my decisions.

Reference List:

Ellis, Y., Daniels, W. and Jauregui, A. (2010), ‘The effect of multitasking on the grade performance of business students’, Research in Higher Education Journal, no. 8, viewed 9th September 2014, <;

Gambino, M 2012, Why Procrastination is Good for you, Smithsonian, viewed 8th September 2014, <;.

Mäntylä, T 2013, ‘Gender Differences in Multitasking Reflect Spatial Ability’, Psychological Science, vol. 24, no. 2, pp. 514-520

Weimer, M 2012, Students Think They Can Multitask. Here’s Proof They Can’t, The Teaching Professor Blog, blog post, 26th September, viewed 8th September 2014, < >.


One thought on “Multitasking: is it madness?

  1. Pingback: Time to Reflect | caitlin.mullins

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