Take the 2-minute tour ×
Skeptics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for scientific skepticism. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I hear this very often, while woman can do several things at a time. If this is true, what are the qualifications that make woman capable of doing several things at once?

A quick Google search returned an obviously popular book;

enter image description here

However, I haven't read it and I'm not planning to. Plans may change if this gets interesting though.

Are there any evidence that support the idea/ theory?

share|improve this question
3  
But don't you clearly see examples of men doing more than one thing at a time? What does this even mean? I've eaten while watching tv, for instance. –  Razor Storm Jun 2 '11 at 17:39
1  
So your position seems to be "Here is a book which answers my question, but I don't want to read it." Why not? –  Oddthinking Jun 2 '11 at 17:40
2  
@Whirlwin: I edited the title to make the question more well-defined and answerable; I hope without changing what you intended to ask. Feel free to roll back if you disapprove. –  David Hedlund Jun 2 '11 at 18:28
6  
@Oddthinking I think it's pretty okay that he doesn't want to read a book which has two untruthful (or at least exaggerated) statements in the title already. –  Ruben Jun 2 '11 at 19:12
2  
@Oddthinking I think prodding someone on a Skeptics website to read a book by the Pease's smells a little like "learn first, then criticize". Also, the cover makes two extreme statements (only, never) which can be refuted by two single everyday observations. If this book cites its sources and these sources actually support their outrageous cover claims I'd be surprised. So for now, I think it's okay to assume that they're wrong and look for scientific literature directly. If that showed a dearth of evidence I might consider looking at their sources (any?). –  Ruben Jun 3 '11 at 10:00

3 Answers 3

up vote 22 down vote accepted

Edit: Now there's some evidence for this idea

I thought I'd come back to this question, because I wasn't really satisfied with what the literature yielded back then and the paper that Peters mentioned (there had only been a press release) has come out.
Stoet, O'Connor, Conner, & Laws (2013) looked at this and found some evidence for the idea.

Quoting from their abstract

Background

There seems to be a common belief that women are better in multi-tasking than men, but there is practically no scientific research on this topic. Here, we tested whether women have better multi-tasking skills than men.

Methods

In Experiment 1, we compared performance of 120 women and 120 men in a computer-based task-switching paradigm. In Experiment 2, we compared a different group of 47 women and 47 men on "paper-and-pencil" multi-tasking tests.

Results

In Experiment 1, both men and women performed more slowly when two tasks were rapidly interleaved than when the two tasks were performed separately. Importantly, this slow down was significantly larger in the male participants (Cohen’s d = 0.27). In an everyday multi-tasking scenario (Experiment 2), men and women did not differ significantly at solving simple arithmetic problems, searching for restaurants on a map, or answering general knowledge questions on the phone, but women were significantly better at devising strategies for locating a lost key (Cohen’s d = 0.49).

Conclusions

Women outperform men in these multi-tasking paradigms, but the near lack of empirical studies on gender differences in multitasking should caution against making strong generalisations. Instead, we hope that other researchers will aim to replicate and elaborate on our findings.

--- end edit

Old answer

No, there is no such evidence.

Apparently there didn't use to be much evidence against it either, but I found two recent studies by Noemi Peters (2010, 2011).

First I did a search on "sex differences" multitasking and similar terms, but I could only find a dodgy study in support and not much well-received publications in the field anyway. Apparently Ms Peters found the same dearth in the literature. The fun part: I found her publications by looking who had cited the Pease book :-)

I searched extensively for peer-reviewed scientific publications that examine gender differences in multitasking ability, but the closest I could find is Criss (2006) and Havel (2004), which are manuscripts that are made available online at the website of the National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse. Both examined subjects who had to perform some specified tasks while tallying keywords from a song/story. None of them found gender differences in productivity when multitasking, but Criss (2006) found that women were better at accuracy. Nonetheless, we do not know whether the findings can be attributed to multitasking as none of them had a control group. Besides, some British newspapers reported recently about an experiment that supports the view that women are better (see Gray, 2010), but when I contacted the lead researcher, Professor Keith Laws, it turned out that there is not even a working paper yet that I could discuss here.

Her evidence to the contrary wasn't published in peer reviewed journals, so if somebody has something stronger, better pay attention to that instead.

From the abstract of her dissertation:

The view that women are better at multitasking is widely held, however there is no scientific evidence supporting it. This experiment examines whether there are gender differences in multitasking ability and in the inclination to multitask. To this end, I conduct an experiment with three treatments: one where subjects have to execute two tasks sequentially, one where subjects are forced to multitask with the two tasks, and one where they can choose freely how to organize their work. The results of the third treatment indicate that there is no gender difference in the inclination to multitask. As far as multitasking ability is concerned, I do find a gender difference but it is contrary to the widely held beliefs: point estimates indicate that men perform better both under forced and voluntary multitasking. This gender difference reaches statistical significance in case of voluntary multitasking.

share|improve this answer
    
"I searched extensively for peer-reviewed scientific publications that examine gender differences in multitasking ability, but the closest I could find is Criss (2006) and Havel (2004)" The first link on Google Scholar seems relevant. –  Mud Jun 2 '11 at 22:16
    
@Mud I found this too. It's only a conference proceeding, however, so, not peer-reviewed. It's also paywalled for me, so I can't have a deeper look. –  Ruben Jun 3 '11 at 0:23
    
It is a bit confusing to highlight "None of the found gender differences", when the statement only applies to productivity, not accuracy –  Casebash Jun 16 '11 at 12:08
    
@Casebash It's worthless anyhow, because they did not have a control group and weren't published in PR journals. But my thinking when I highlighted that bit was probably that accuracy doesn't count for much (if it worked, you'd multi-task to save time => productivity, not to obtain higher accuracy). –  Ruben Jun 16 '11 at 16:11
    
@ApisGirl I saw your edit that Sklivvz rejected. That's a little bit interesting, maybe you can upload the conference proceeding somewhere. I think I heard of peer-reviewed research into this in the meanwhile, probably my search terms are just way off, one probably should look at the executive functions lit. especially task switching. –  Ruben Dec 5 '12 at 14:08

The Straight Dope wrote an article on this:

A lot of the cognitive research on sex differences in multitasking, unfortunately, has fixated on simultasking. The results have been all over the place — some showing that men do better, some women, some neither. Few of the studies I’ve seen compare the results of simultasking against a control group of unitaskers, that is, people doing just one thing. My guess is that, for intellectually demanding work, unitaskers do way better than simultaskers of either sex...

Research and common sense suggest that the only way to do two tasks competently at the same time is to make sure at least one of them requires minimal brainpower, for example folding laundry while on the phone. A reasonable surmise is that women’s reputation as superior multitaskers stems partly from the fact that they’re disproportionately burdened with mindless household chores that can readily be done simultaneously.

share|improve this answer

There has been some changes since the OP asked this question and at least one relevant research paper has tried to provide a new answer to this question. According to study this (Mäntylä T. 2013) published in one of the top ten peer reviewed journal of psychology:

Yes there is evidence... but men seems better at it

(emphasis is from me)

The second main finding of Experiment 1 was that males (mean proportion correct = .85) outperformed females (mean proportion correct = .74) at multitasking, as indexed by accuracy in the counter task, F(1, 70) = 6.25, ηp 2 = .08, p < .01.

As shown in Figure 1, the gender difference in accuracy favored men by about 10% across the three counter tasks. This difference was not due to a trade-off between accuracy in the counter tasks and in the background (name-back) task, given that both men and women identified about 38% of the targets in the name-back task (with no differences in false alarms). Furthermore, gender differences in counter-task accuracy were not related to differences in monitoring frequency (F < 1). Females (mean proportion correct = .52) performed somewhat better than men (mean proportion correct = .48) in the letter-memory task, but this difference was not reliable (F < 1).


The second experiment demonstrated another interesting fact:

Experiment 2 provided additional support for this hypothesis by showing that gender differences in multitasking (and spatial ability) were eliminated among females who were in the menstrual, but not the luteal, phase of their menstrual cycle.


Limitations

The author is aware of some limit of his experiments. Most of them are related to the assumption that multitasking involve spatial abilities. I extracted the most interesting part of the discussion, but refer to the original paper for better understanding of their impacts. (again, emphasis is from me)

[...] it was necessary to use (gender-fair) test conditions in which the role of domain-specific skills and experiences were minimized. Furthermore, although most everyday multitasking may involve a great deal of spatiotemporal processing, it is reasonable to assume that these demands are domain specific. A central assumption of the spatiotemporal hypothesis introduced here is that gender differences in multitasking are expected when the demands on temporal coordination are relatively high. In most dual-task conditions, these demands are low and less dependent on spatial abilities than are multiple tasks that may require coordination of a complex pattern of temporal contingencies. This line of reasoning is also consistent with evidence from earlier studies showing no gender-related differences in dual-task conditions.

[...] Another limitation of the study is that both experiments involved relatively restricted time frames and predictable target events (in the counter tasks). The term multitasking is a loosely defined construct that covers a wide spectrum of activities and time frames. Multitasking in some conditions may require very narrow deadlines (e.g., air traffic control), whereas other types of multitasking (e.g., household activities) may impose lower demands on spatiotemporal processing because of more-generous time windows. It is reasonable to assume that, like most goal-directed tasks, everyday multitasking reflects different mixtures of task-independent cognitive functions (e.g., components of executive functioning and spatial processing) and more domain-specific skills and strategies. From this perspective, individual differences in multitasking should be considered in relative terms, given that some conditions may show reduced or even reversed gender differences because of task-specific constraints and strategies.

Mäntylä T., Gender Differences in Multitasking Reflect Spatial Ability, Psychological Science, April 1, 2013 24: 514-520

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.