This month’s Myth Buster is ‘Women are better at multitasking’ by Georgia Holleran (for more about The Modern Educator’s Emporium of Smart Thinking go to:www.thesmartthinkingclub.com).
This is a myth is because neither sex is superior at multitasking. Multitasking itself is simply not possible. In reality, our brains are unable to effectively process more than one task at a time and research* has shown all we are doing is switching our attention between those tasks. This continuous switching can lead to a ‘response selection bottleneck’ which can cause time to be lost while the brain tries to determine which of the tasks to perform.
The myth of being able to multitask is not restricted to modern times as Rosen (2008) unearthed these words from Lord Chesterfield to his son in the 1740’s: “There is time enough for everything in the course of the day if you do but one thing at once, but there is not time enough in the year if you will do two things at a time”. But now, in our age of 24/7 working and FOMO (fear of missing out) on social media, we appear to not only be in a state of permanent distraction but also actively inviting those distractions. Our brains release a shot of dopamine when we encounter novelty, thus the attraction of continuously engaging in multitasking. The implications for our younger generations who have been brought up alongside tablets, phone, and games, could be huge. One young person was recorded commenting that they ‘get bored’ even waiting for a website to load. Professor Cal Newport is an enthusiastic proponent of what he calls ‘deep work’ and states that the ability to focus without distraction is becoming increasingly rare.
So, a woman might be more competent at attention switching, but is she more effective than her male counterpart whose ‘inability’ to attention switch means he is more likely to complete his tasks one at a time?