What does science say about this?
Mums, has it ever frustrated you that your husband seems to be incapable of doing more than one task? And Dads, do you get mad when your wife expects you to juggle a million things like she does? Here’s what science unveils about men multitasking (or not being able to!).
What science says about men multitasking
Women are more composed than men
UK psychologists did rapid task switching tests to see differences in women and men multitasking. Although both sexes struggled, men suffered more on average. According to the paper in the journal BMC Psychology, men were slower and less organised than women.
In a second test, a group of women and men were given eight minutes to complete a series of tasks. These included locating restaurants in a map and planning how they would search for a lost key in a field.
However, there was no way to complete all these assignments in time. Both women and men multitasking had to prioritise tasks, organise their time, and keep calm under pressure.
In the end, scientists observed that women were particularly successful in the key search task. Co-author Prof Keith Laws, of the University of Hertfordshire explains why. “Women were more organised, planning how to achieve their goal, whereas men impulsively jumped into it”, says Prof Keith Laws.
Differences in brain structure possibly linked to multitasking abilities
Biological studies also support these findings. Dr. Ragini Verma from the University of Pennsylvania and her colleagues conducted a study on 428 men and boys, and 521 women and girls.
They found out that men had much more dominant connections in the cerebrum, the side specialised for logical thoughts. Women, on the other hand, had balanced connections in the cerebellum and cerebrum, the side for intuitive thoughts.
In other words, it is possible that the cross connection between the left and right sides in women show better multitasking ability. In contrast, men’s brains are “wired” in a way that results in one-track thinking.
Dr Verma also observes that these variations are not congenital and occur with age. Young boys and girls show very few differences, which become more pronounced as they grow older.
Multitasking and its cons
Although multitasking is becoming more common, some believe it is not ideal. Multitasking can be inefficient in handling different tasks that require brainpower. If you can’t absorb enough information for the short-term memory, it’s unlikely you’ll remember it later, or ever.
Paolo Cardini, a designer and educator argues that multitasking isn’t efficient. Information overload can reduce productivity and our curious drive for adventure.
Dr Gijsbert Stoet, from the University of Glasgow, suggests that a one-track mind is beneficial in some aspects. Not multitasking and ignoring distractions has helped us achieve things we couldn’t otherwise do, such as discover fire.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also reports that multitasking is rewiring our brains. The better we multitask, the worse we are at creative problem solving and thinking deeply.
Nicholas Carr from the Shallows explains further. Multitaskers are likelier to “depend on traditional solutions rather than challenging them with original lines of thought.”, says Mr Carr.
Women and Men Multitasking: The Common Ground
Mums and Dads, we know this difference can cause a lot of arguments at home. Knowing all this, what can we do to improve family dynamics and lifestyle?
It all boils down to understanding one another and communicating honestly in non-judgmental ways.
- If you find yourselves nagging your hubbies because they are unable to multitask, pause for a second. Ask your husband to cool down as well for a few minutes. Remember, us guys are wired differently.
- Sit down calmly and evaluate the situation. Be honest with your husband and do not judge him. Ask yourself: what are the problems – is it that neither side is willing to give in? Is there a solution that can benefit both your wants?
- Hubbies, I know you take great pride in your work. But when you’re wife scolds you for not being able to multitask, she’s not attacking you. She’s attacking your behaviour.
- If it really is impossible to multitask, then delegate among yourselves a housekeeping role at fixed times. Maybe mum can do the chores during the weekdays, while Dad helps out on weekends.
For your little ones:
- Challenge your children with monotasking problems – but don’t provide all the solutions! Let them solve it themselves creatively. For instance, you can make a treasure hunt but put puzzles and hints for them.
- Don’t provide gadgets and smartphones early on. Let them roam the great outdoors (under adult supervision, of course!). Even when they are mature enough to use these gadgets, do implement non digital times. For instance, you can ban cell phone use before bed time.
Clearly, the average woman is better at multitasking compared to the average man, as outlined by differences in how they are wired. However men can learn from women to be organised under pressure, and vice versa.
At home, it’s important to remember to have open and honest conversations with your spouse and find solutions. For the little ones, do remember to challenge them to think creatively, and limit gadget time.