The Illusion of Multitasking and Its Positive Effect on Performance
Forthcoming, Psychological Science
85 Pages Posted: 15 Nov 2018
Date Written: October 23, 2018
With technological advancements, the desire, ability, and often necessity to multitask are pervasive. Although multitasking refers to the simultaneous execution of multiple tasks, most activities that require active attention cannot actually be done simultaneously. Therefore, whether a certain activity is considered multitasking is often a matter of perception. The current paper demonstrates the malleability of what people perceive as multitasking, showing that the same activity may or may not be construed as multitasking. Importantly, although engaging in multiple tasks may diminish performance, we find that, holding the activity constant, the mere perception of multitasking in fact improves performance. Across 32 studies (30 of which with performance-based incentives), totaling 8,242 participants, we find that those who perceived an activity as multitasking were more engaged, and consequently outperformed those who perceived that same activity as single-tasking.
Keywords: multitasking, performance, perception, engagement, pupil dilation
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