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Multitasking Across Generations


Multitasking Across Generations L. M. Carrier, L. Rosen, N. Cheever, S. Benitez, J. Chang CSU Dominguez Hills Presented at the Western Psychological Association s ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Multitasking Across Generations

Multitasking Across Generations
  • L. M. Carrier, L. Rosen, N. Cheever, S. Benitez,
    J. Chang
  • CSU Dominguez Hills

Presented at the Western Psychological
Associations 88th Annual Convention, April 11,
2008 (Irvine, CA)
Ages Recoded into Generations
  • Baby Boomers --gt born 1946-1964
  • Gen Xers --gt born 1965-1978
  • Net Geners --gt born after 1978
  • originally intended to use 1979not 1978but one
    age group spanned 1979

Generational Effects on Multitasking?
  • Older generations
  • grew up in environments with drastically fewer
    opportunities for multitasking
  • much less daily emphasis placed on doing more
    than one task at a time due to technology
  • Younger generations
  • raised in very different social and technological
  • new technologies encourage or afford multitasking
  • might be engaging in radically different
    multitasking behaviors while mental and physical
    processes are in development
  • brain areas that control multitasking might be in
    development during multitasking behavior

Typical Teen?
Playing video games and talking on the phone
What is Multitasking?
  • Two Possibilities
  • Task Switching
  • alternating between two or more tasks
  • Simultaneous Performance of Tasks
  • Parallel processing
  • Present Study does not Distinguish between these

Summary of Prior Studies
  • Net Geners are multitasking (Jeong Fishbein,
    2007 Jordan, Fishbein, Zhang, Jeong, Hennessy,
    Martin, Davis, 2005)
  • Some task combinations are multitasked more than
    others (Jeong Fishbein, 2007 Jordan et al.,
  • possibly due to the cognitive demands of the
    individual tasks?
  • E.g., IMing frequency is associated with
    increased distractibility amongst NetGeners
    (Levine, Waite, Bowman, 2007)
  • Possibly because the short frequent attention
    bursts in IMing lend themselves to task switching

Purpose of Current Study
  • Evaluate multitasking frequency of Net Geners
    relative to other generations
  • Evaluate multitasking limitations of youngest
  • Comparison of multitasking patterns to other
  • Comparison of multitasking difficulty ratings to
    other generations

Method Overview
  • Anonymous, online questionnaire
  • 1,319 respondents from ages 11 to 60
  • Data collected in Fall of 2007
  • Acquaintances of undergraduate students at a
    university in the Los Angeles area
  • Including online acquaintances
  • No geographical location was recorded

Participant Characteristics
  • N 1319
  • Females 772 (58.5), Males 547 (41.5)
  • Caucasian 435 (33.0), Latino 374 (28.4), Black
    239 (18.1), Asian 212 (16.1), Missing 59
  • Reflects the ethnic composition of the LA Basin
  • Baby Boomer 312 (23.7), Gen X 182 (13.8), Net
    Gen 825 (62.5)

Looked at 12 Everyday Tasks, mostly
  • Surfing the WWW
  • Offline Computing
  • Email
  • IM/Chatting
  • Using the Telephone
  • Texting
  • Playing Video Games
  • Listening to Music
  • Watching TV
  • Eating
  • Pleasure Reading
  • Talking Face to Face

Main effect of task, F(11,14476) 216.60, p lt
0.001 Main effect of generation, F(2,1316)
68.86, p lt 0.001 Task X generation, F(22,14476)
15.29, p lt 0.001
Simple Effects Tests for Each Task
Task Effect? F (2,1316) p value
Surfing the Web Yes 52.83 p lt 0.001
Offline Computer Tasks Yes 8.74 p lt 0.001
IMing Yes 72.43 p lt 0.001
Texting Yes 60.08 p lt 0.001
Playing Video Games Yes 34.41 p lt 0.001
Listening to Music Yes 51.46 p lt 0.001
Eating Yes 23.49 p lt 0.001
Talking Face to Face Yes 22.25 p lt 0.001
Pleasure Reading No lt 1 p 0.724
Watching TV No 1.36 p 0.257
Telephoning No 3.35 p 0.036
E-mailing No 3.18 p 0.042
Tasks Formed 66 Dual-Task Combinations
  • All task combinations queried
  • Self-report scale
  • Do you
  • Not do either task?
  • Do them, but not together?
  • Do them together, with difficulty?
  • Do them together, with ease?

Multitasking Effectiveness
  • Distinguish between decision to multitask and
    ability to multitask
  • E.g., a person can choose to do two tasks at once
    yet not do them well
  • Distinguish between perceived ease of
    multitasking and ability to multitask
  • E.g., a person can find it easy to do two
    particular tasks at once yet not do them well
  • Our study looks only at multitasking choices and
    perceived ease

Part 1 Multitasking Frequency
  • How much do people multitask?
  • How much do Net Geners multitask?
  • Comparisons across generations

Who Does These Tasks?
Baby Boomer Multitasking Choices
Proportion of respondents who multitask given
that they do both tasks singly
Gen Xer Multitasking Choices
Proportion of respondents who multitask given
that they do both tasks singly
Net Gener Multitasking Choices
Proportion of respondents who multitask given
that they do both tasks singly
Net Geners Multitask Most Task Combinations
Patterns of Multitasking Choices Highly
Correlated Across Generations
Correlations of proportions of multitaskers for
each task combination

p lt 0.001
Doing More than One Thing at a Time
  • Mean number of tasks performed simultaneously
    during typical free time at home
  • 5.55 (SD 2.55)

Net Geners Try to Do More Things at Once
F (2,1316) 26.38 p lt 0.001
Post-hoc Comparisons Show That All Means are Sig.
Different from each other.
Multitasking Quality
  • Do Net Geners find it easier to multitask?
  • Do Net Geners share the same multitasking
    limitations as other generations?

Which Tasks are Multitasked Most Often?
Net Geners Find it Somewhat Easier to Multitask
Easy lt 0.50 of respondents reported as
difficult Mild 0.50-0.74 of respondents
reported as difficult
No generation found any task combination
difficult (gt 0.75 agreement)
Generations Agree on Which Task Combinations are

p lt 0.001
Summary of Findings
  • Multitasking is the norm
  • For almost all task combinations
  • Across generations
  • Likelihood of multitasking
  • Some task combinations multitasked more than
  • Pattern is the same across generations
  • Net Geners more likely to multitask than other
  • Net Geners do more tasks at the same time than
    other generations
  • Difficulty of multitasking
  • Some task combinations more difficult than others
  • Pattern is the same across generations
  • Net Geners less likely than other generations to
    report difficulty

Possible Interpretations
  • Cognitive Load interpretation (after Fishbein
  • Tasks place a load on a general cognitive
    resource for multitasking
  • Different tasks place different loads depending
    upon the task characteristics
  • Net Geners have a larger source of the general
    cognitive resource than other generations
  • But Net Geners share the same physical and
    cognitive mechanisms that make some tasks place
    larger loads than others

What Governs the Choice of which Tasks to
  • Our data do not speak to this
  • However, some possibilities are
  • Conflict in sensory or response modalities
  • E.g., video gaming and texting
  • Sustained vs. intermittent attention requirements
  • Practice with task or with components of task
  • E.g., experience at texting
  • Amount of higher-level processing required
  • E.g., listening to music vs. talking face to face
  • Conflict in physical demands of tasks

How can people do so many tasks at once?
  • They likely are task switching, not dividing
    their attention
  • Some tasks have slack time, in which attention
    can be diverted to another task
  • e.g., waiting for chat partner to respond while

Multitasking Effectiveness
  • There probably are costs Associated with
    Multitasking (task-switching)
  • And they might apply to all generations
  • E.g., increased laptop use by contemporary
    college students in class is associated with
    lower final grades and the top two reported
    in-class distractions are one's own laptop use
    and other students' laptop use (Fried, 2008)
  • However, the Present Study does not Measure Skill
    at Multitasking, only choice to multitask

Number of Tasks at the Same Time When Have Free
  1. Online
  2. Use Computer
  3. E-Mail
  4. IM/Chat
  5. Talk on Phone
  6. Text Message
  7. Video Games
  8. Listen Music
  9. Watch TV
  10. Eat
  11. Read
  12. Talking f2f

Eating Online Music TV E-Mail
Music Eating Online IM/Chat Phone
Online Eating Music Texting E-Mail
Music Eating Online TV Phone
Eating TV Music Phone F2F
N135 N208
N335 N329 N312
Some Limitations
  • Generation is confounded with biological age
  • Do Net Geners have fresh, young minds or do they
    have new and improved minds?
  • Self-reports, not observations of performance
  • Multitasking is defined loosely could involve
  • Conditions of task performance not critical or
  • E.g., studying for a final exam
  • Looking at this now

  • Net Geners ARE different in how often they
    multitask compared to older generations
  • They multitask more and report that is less
  • But NOT different in choice of tasks to multitask
    or in relative ratings of difficulty of
    multitasking combinations
  • Therefore, mixed support for hypothesis that Net
    Geners are multitasking masters