An experimental paradigm for the assessment of realistic human multitasking

Abstract

Human multitasking has been evaluated with paradigms that administered two—rarely three—concurrent tasks. In everyday life, however, we usually face an ever-changing sequence of distinct concurrent tasks. Available studies therefore provided valuable insights into our ability for dual tasking, but they did not address the natural interplay of dual tasking and task switching. The present study was undertaken to explore the feasibility of two new paradigms which replicate that interplay in virtual reality. We used car driving simulator software to implement a virtual car-driving task as well as a virtual street-crossing task. Either task was administered alone, as well as concurrently with a battery of loading tasks that mimicked activities of everyday life. The loading tasks used different sensory modalities, different cognitive processes, and different output channels and were presented in an ever-changing sequence. Cronbach’s alpha scores of key registered variables were high, which indicates that our approach is reliable. Driving and street-crossing performance deteriorated under multitask conditions, which indicates that our approach is sensitive to multitasking. This is the first study to demonstrate the feasibility of an experimental paradigm for the assessment of natural multitasking, i.e., of combined dual tasking and task switching. This paradigm could be of interest for basic science as well as for prevention and rehabilitation settings.

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Acknowledgements

This research was supported by Grants within the Priority Program SPP 1772 from the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG), Grants BO 649/22-1 and VO 1432/19-1. One of the authors (WvW) owns the Carnetsoft® company, which sells the driving simulator used in our study. Neither the person nor the company provided financial support for our work. We undertook every effort to avoid any reporting bias and any advertorial content.

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Correspondence to Otmar Bock.

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This study was pre-approved by the Ethics Commission of the German Sport University. We adhered to the Standards laid down by the Helsinki Declaration.

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Bock, O., Drescher, U., Janouch, C. et al. An experimental paradigm for the assessment of realistic human multitasking. Virtual Reality 23, 61–70 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10055-018-0342-7

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Keywords

  • Human cognition
  • Multitasking costs
  • Ecological validity
  • Car driving
  • Street crossing