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Task Speed and Accuracy Decrease When Multitasking

Abstract

As new technologies increase the opportunities for multitasking, the need to understand human capacities for multitasking continues to grow stronger. Is multitasking helping us to be more efficient? This study investigated the multitasking abilities of 168 participants, ages 6–72, by measuring their task accuracy and completion time when they completed a visual or auditory task alone (single-tasking) as compared to when they attempted the two tasks simultaneously (multitasking). Age, gender, and personality factors were assessed. Observations and post-study interviews provided additional insights into the participants’ multitasking strategies. Results showed significantly lower accuracy and longer completion time in participants when they attempted the combined tasks, suggesting that even concurrent tasks that depend upon different modalities may hinder efficiency. In addition, a significant correlation was seen between age groupings, with teenagers (ages 13–19) and young adults (ages 20–40) showing the strongest multitasking abilities.

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Acknowledgments

The authors thank Ken Cockerham for his assistance in designing and conducting the study. We also wish to thank the Research and Learning Center at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History for their hospitality and their continued support.

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Correspondence to Lin Lin.

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Lin, L., Cockerham, D., Chang, Z. et al. Task Speed and Accuracy Decrease When Multitasking. Tech Know Learn 21, 307–323 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10758-015-9266-4

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Keywords

  • Multitasking
  • Single-tasking
  • Dual-task
  • Cognitive load
  • Accuracy
  • Speed
  • Personality traits