The Illusion of Multitasking and Its Positive Effect on Performance

Forthcoming, Psychological Science

85 Pages Posted: 15 Nov 2018

See all articles by Shalena Srna

Shalena Srna

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - Marketing

Rom Y. Schrift

University of Pennsylvania - The Wharton School

Gal Zauberman

Yale

Date Written: October 23, 2018

Abstract

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

Suggested Citation

Srna, Shalena and Schrift, Rom Y. and Zauberman, Gal, The Illusion of Multitasking and Its Positive Effect on Performance (October 23, 2018). Forthcoming, Psychological Science. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3271991

Shalena Srna (Contact Author)

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - Marketing ( email )

701 Tappan Avenue
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
United States

Rom Y. Schrift

University of Pennsylvania - The Wharton School ( email )

700 Jon M. Huntsman Hall
3730 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6340
United States

Gal Zauberman

Yale ( email )

165 Whitney Avenue
New Haven, CT 06511
United States

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