Supertaskers: Profiles in extraordinary multitasking ability

Abstract

Theory suggests that driving should be impaired for any motorist who is concurrently talking on a cell phone. But is everybody impaired by this dual-task combination? We tested 200 participants in a high-fidelity driving simulator in both single- and dual-task conditions. The dual task involved driving while performing a demanding auditory version of the operation span (OSPAN) task. Whereas the vast majority of participants showed significant performance decrements in dual-task conditions (compared with single-task conditions for either driving or OSPAN tasks), 2.5% of the sample showed absolutely no performance decrements with respect to performing single and dual tasks. In single-task conditions, these “supertaskers” scored in the top quartile on all dependent measures associated with driving and OSPAN tasks, and Monte Carlo simulations indicated that the frequency of supertaskers was significantly greater than chance. These individual differences help to sharpen our theoretical understanding of attention and cognitive control in naturalistic settings.

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Correspondence to Jason M. Watson or David L. Strayer.

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Support for this study was provided through an internal grant from the University of Utah.

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Watson, J.M., Strayer, D.L. Supertaskers: Profiles in extraordinary multitasking ability. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 17, 479–485 (2010). https://doi.org/10.3758/PBR.17.4.479

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Keywords

  • Cell Phone
  • Work Memory Capacity
  • Dual Task
  • Inattention Blindness
  • Executive Attention