Women are no better at multitasking

Cooking, chatting with a partner and meanwhile scrolling through Instagram with half an eye. When it comes to multitasking, it is often suggested that women are better at it. Complete nonsense, according to a new study.

Do you sometimes feel bad about yourself as a woman, because you don’t seem to possess that so-called innate multitasking talent? Fear no more, because apparently, women are not such born multitaskers as has always been claimed.

Even more: when it comes to performing different tasks at the same time, there appears to be little to no difference between the two sexes. This is stated in a new study that has been published in the scientific journal PLOS One.

For the research, 48 men and 48 women had to perform a lot of tasks. Sometimes tasks had to alternate, other times they had to perform two tasks at the same time. The scientists checked how accurate and how quickly the participants completed the tests. They saw no difference between men and women.

“Our findings do not confirm the widespread stereotype – that women are better at multitasking than men –“ the authors conclude.


Admittedly, that is not a big surprise. It has been said for some time that multitasking – whether you are a man or a woman – is a myth. Among others by Theo Compernolle, professor, doctor, neuropsychiatrist, consultant and author of the book ‘This is how you get more out of your brain: working more efficiently and creatively in a hyper-connected multitasking world’.

The expert explains that there are two different types: simultaneous and serial multitasking. You were probably not aware of the distinction until now, but you regularly apply both in practice. The first kind is more the classic multitasking: you do two things at the same time. Or at least you think so.

“If you engage in simultaneous multitasking – for example, writing emails while participating in a conference call – you are constantly switching from one task and context to another. The result is corresponding: information and energy are lost, your stress level increases and you will make more stupid mistakes. Tiring and horribly inefficient.”

From homo sapiens to homo interruptus

The explanation? Your thinking brain can only handle one task at a time, underlines Professor Compernolle. “Your attention is not divided at all, but broken. To continue with the example: while writing an e-mail, you do not hear what is being said during a conference call. You can easily recognize people with broken attention: they ask questions that have already been asked or even answered.”

In addition to being embarrassing – it is not really nice to be pointed out by your boss that your question was asked three seconds ago – multitasking can also have pretty difficult consequences. “Our brain absolutely does not like such sudden interruptions in the flow of information. It will, therefore, try to catch them by guessing. And so you hear things that were never said.”

In short, homo sapiens has become a homo interruptus, argues Compernolle. On average, we can only work for 11 minutes on a task without being interrupted. In such a hip ‘open office’ that number is only two minutes. And that while multitasking is just as natural as artificial grass. “Eliminate changes radically and ruthlessly,” it sounds.

Good feeling, HLN
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