Aachen (dpa) - Contrary to popular belief, women are not generally better at multitasking than men. Researchers led by Patricia Hirsch from the RWTH Aachen had 48 women and just as many men do number and letter tests.
The result: If they had to do two tasks at the same time, both sexes worked slower and more inaccurately, as the group writes in the magazine "Plos One". There was no difference between the sexes.
The researchers point out that older studies have come to very different results. In some cases, no differences were noted, sometimes women performed better, in other studies men did. That some studies suggest gender differences, could be due to the tasks, write the Aachen researchers. Because no single experiment can test all forms of multitasking and the necessary cognitive abilities.
In their study, the group around Hirsch had their subjects identify on-screen letters as vowels or consonants. A second task was to determine numbers as even or odd. In some tests, they had to do the two tasks at the same time, while in others they had to switch quickly from one task to another.
"Our results do not confirm the widespread prejudice that women are better at multitasking than men" - at least not in the tests that are exemplary for certain challenges.
Hirsch names three examples of everyday life for the tested cognitive abilities:
- Update the working memory: If you drive by car from a 50s zone into a 30s zone, the information that is no longer relevant has to be replaced by the new information "Here you can drive a maximum of 50 km / h" h drive »to be replaced.
- Transfer to a new task: If you write between the tasks e-mail and phone calls.
- Filtering out irrelevant information: You are at the intersection with a traffic light and you want to drive straight ahead. Information that gives the traffic light for right turn, you have to ignore.
The researchers also limit: "The current study does not allow conclusions about gender differences in other multitasking situations."
The neuropsychologist Lutz Jäncke from the University of Zurich, who is not involved in the study, assumes - similar to Hirsch and her team - that differences between men and women in multitasking are low or absent.
Such a difference would not follow any evolutionary logic. "There is no genetic, ultimate meaning behind suspecting that the Homo-Sapiens woman should have been better pre-programmed for multitasking 150,000 years ago than a man. That's completely nonsensical, "says Jäncke.
"Multitasking is something that we humans can do very badly." Our brain is made for focusing on the essential, says Jäncke. "You have to suppress irrelevant information in order to let the relevant stuff through."
A general problem of older gender studies is that it was often reported significant differences between men and women, if such were discovered by chance, says Jäncke. On the other hand, funded studies revealed no difference, as they were often not published.