Journal of Happiness Studies

, Volume 20, Issue 3, pp 899–918 | Cite as

Multitasking and Feeling Good? Autonomy of Additional Activities Predicts Affect

  • Olga BachmannEmail author
  • Carola Grunschel
  • Stefan Fries
Research Paper


There is a consensus that multitasking is becoming more frequent in students’ everyday lives. However, few studies investigated the relationship of multitasking and affect, and those that did found contradictory results. The aim of the current study was to disentangle these results by adopting a self-determination theory perspective. In accordance with self-determination theory, we predicted that multitasking is associated with higher positive and lower negative affect than mono-tasking when the additional activity is motivated autonomously, i.e. when the additional activity is done voluntarily. On the other hand, we hypothesised that multitasking is associated with higher negative and lower positive affect than mono-tasking when the additional activity is motivated because of controlled reasons. In an experience sampling study, 51 students completed 1341 questionnaires over the course of 1 week. For each prompt, students specified their current affect, what they were currently doing as a main activity, whether they were engaged in any additional activity (i.e., multitasking), and how autonomously they were motivated to carry out each of their activities. Results showed that students multitasked 41% of the time. In line with self-determination theory, multitasking with an autonomous additional activity in comparison to mono-tasking was associated with higher positive affect, whereas multitasking with a controlled additional activity in comparison to mono-tasking was associated with higher negative affect. To our knowledge, the current study is the first to demonstrate that the relationship of multitasking and affect depends on the level of autonomy of the additional activity.


Multitasking Affect Autonomy Self-determination Experience sampling 



The study was founded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung), Grant Number: 01PB14003A.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyBielefeld UniversityBielefeldGermany

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