Biology major debunks multitasking stereotypes

A new MVNU student study explores whether we do as well multitasking as we may think.

Senior biology major Anthony DeMarco is completing his senior honors project on gender differences in multitasking.

DeMarco says he is interested in how people handle multitasking in general and the legitimacy of gender differences in multitasking. The common belief is that females are better than males at multitasking.

“You have these stereotypes thrown out there,” DeMarco said. But, “no matter where you go, there is some controversy on that.”

Professional studies suggest that women do better than men with verbal multitasking, while men do better than women with spatial multitasking.

DeMarco set up his research study to test overall performance differences between multitasking and non- multitasking groups, as well as to investigate possible differences between men and women in both verbal and spatial multitasking abilities.

For the experiment, more than 100 student volunteers were separated into three groups. Each group filled out a pre-study survey providing information on their GPAs and academic test scores. Each group then watched a 15-minute educational video.

Group One watched the video with no distractions. Group Two watched the video with verbal distractions, such as instructions to name as many animals as possible in one minute. Group Three watched the video while playing one minute of a game on a smart device, a spatial distraction.

The groups were then tested on the video information and given a survey to judge interest and attention levels.

Senior Jasmine Lamb was part of the verbal distraction group and says she was surprised by how difficult multitasking was.

“I learned that multitasking when doing a job and multitasking in a classroom is not the same thing,” Lamb said. Behavioral neuroscientist and MVNU psychology professor Dr. Leann Couts has been mentoring DeMarco for his project. “I’ve instructed Anthony in several classes, so I knew [him] well,” Couts said. DeMarco is currently collecting and interpreting the data, and thus far, the results have proven to be less “clear-cut” than he initially anticipated.

However, Couts predicted the study will show is that multitasking negatively affects performance.

“I think that probably a strong effect he’s going to get is that multitasking definitely causes deficits in retention of information,” she said.

DeMarco began this project during the beginning of his junior year. He completed the experimentation portion in November of 2015. He plans to have the final analysis completed this spring.

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