Women Really Are Better At Multitasking


Women Really Are Better At Multitasking

Image credits d26b73 / Flickr

Well, the cat’s finally out of the bag. According to a new study conducted by a Swiss team, it turns out that women actually are better than men when it comes to multitasking. But the twist is that they’re better only up until menopause, after which things level off.

Thanks in part to a combination of hormones, women up until their menopause perform better, but after, both men and women performed equally “bad”.  The study was conducted on 83 volunteers between the ages of 18 and 80 of both sexes. The study was a pretty straightforward one, involving a treadmill and the Stroop test.

You’ve probably done this test yourself on the internet at one time or the other. It is usually used to investigate cognitive processes and look for brain damage. We’re not saying that you suffer from any of these things, but this test is found on the internet and people sometimes share it around. It’s the test where you’re asked to name the colour written while the word itself is in another colour completely.

The way they went about it was to put the volunteers on the treadmill, after which they had to name the colours correctly as fast as they could. In the meantime, the researchers were studying the movement of their arms. The Stroop test mainly involves the left side of the brain, which also is responsible for the movements by the right side of the body. The team was curious how much of an impact will these two tasks have on their left hemisphere of the brain.

As it turns out, men of all ages and older women had a visible shift in their otherwise normal swinging arm motion while walking on the treadmill. The rest of the women presented little to no alteration in their arm swing while performing the Stroop test. This points to an increased capacity for multitasking since their left hemisphere isn’t overburdened with too many tasks at once.

“We know that the left hemisphere of the brain is responsible for both the verbal task and the control of arm swing on the opposite side of the body,” said doctoral student and first author Tim Killeen, from the University Hospital Balgrist.

The team believes that female sex hormones, which go away after menopause, can boost the brain’s performance and improve multitasking. After menopause, women’s balance was affected by this study equally as much as men’s.

“In men and older women, the verbal task appears to overwhelm the left brain to the extent that the movement of the arm on the right is reduced. We were surprised to find such a consistent gender difference in how two relatively simple behaviours – cognitive control and arm swing – interact with one another.”

“Others have shown that women are better at switching between tasks than men. We show that women are apparently better, i.e. less susceptible to interference during walking and talking and that this ability apparently fades after 60.”

Now, even though these results seem to be definite, further research is needed. There were other papers written on the subject which contradict these results here. There may be some evidence that the brain’s age may also play a role in multitasking.