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Individual Differences in Multitasking: Support for Spatiotemporal Offloading
Stockholm University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Psychology.
2017 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

In both the private and work spheres, multitasking among three or more activities has become and is continuing to evolve as a pervasive element of everyday life, and recent technological advances only seem to be exacerbating the process. Despite attempts to understand the mental processes that let humans successfully multitask, little is known about the functional cognitive level at which these mental processes take place. This thesis makes a case for the involvement of spatial ability (among other cognitive abilities) in successful multitasking behavior. It focuses on the importance of the cognitive off-loading of executive control demands onto spatial ability, due to the inherent complexity of relationships between task goals and deadlines in multitasking scenarios. Importantly, it presents a working hypothesis—the spatiotemporal hypothesis of multitasking—as a tool for making specific predictions about multitasking performance, based on individual and sex differences in spatial ability.

In Study 1, individual differences in spatial ability and executive functions emerged as independent predictors of multitasking performance. When spatial ability was decomposed into its subcomponents, only the coordinate (metric), but not categorical (nonmetric), processing of spatial relations was related to multitasking performance. Males outperformed females in both spatial ability and multitasking, and the effects were moderated by menstrual changes, in that sex differences in coordinate spatial processing and multitasking were observed between males and females in the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, but not between males and females at menses. In Study II, multitasking performance reflected age- and sex-related differences in executive functioning and spatial ability, suggesting that executive functions contribute to multitasking performance across the adult life span, and that reliance on spatial skills for coordinating deadlines is reduced with advancing age. The results of Study III, in which the spatiotemporal hypothesis was directly scrutinized, suggest that the spatial disruption of multiple deadlines interferes with multitasking performance. Overall, these findings suggest that multitasking performance, under certain conditions, reflects independent contributions of spatial ability and executive functioning. Moreover, the results support the distinction between categorical and coordinate spatial processing, suggesting that these two basic relational processes are selectively affected by female sex hormones and are differentially effective, even across the age span, in transforming and handling temporal patterns as spatial relations in the context of multitasking. Finally, fluctuations of sex hormones exhibit a modulating effect on sex differences in spatial ability and multitasking performance.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Department of Psychology, Stockholm University , 2017. , p. 81
Keywords [en]
multitasking, cognitive offloading, cognitive functions, individual differences, executive functions, spatial ability, sex differences
National Category
Psychology
Research subject
Psychology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-138728ISBN: 978-91-7649-660-2 (print)ISBN: 978-91-7649-661-9 (electronic)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-138728DiVA, id: diva2:1068394
Public defence
2017-03-09, De Geersalen, Geovetenskapens hus, Svante Arrhenius väg 14, Stockholm, 10:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Note

At the time of the doctoral defense, the following paper was unpublished and had a status as follows: Paper 3: Manuscript.

Available from: 2017-02-14 Created: 2017-01-25 Last updated: 2017-02-15Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. Deadlines in space: Selective effects of coordinate spatial processing in multitasking
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Deadlines in space: Selective effects of coordinate spatial processing in multitasking
2015 (English)In: Memory & Cognition, ISSN 0090-502X, E-ISSN 1532-5946, Vol. 43, no 8, p. 1216-1228Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Many everyday activities require coordination and monitoring of multiple deadlines. One way to handle these temporal demands might be to represent future goals and deadlines as a pattern of spatial relations. We examined the hypothesis that spatial ability, in addition to executive functioning, contributes to individual differences in multitasking. In two studies, participants completed a multitasking session in which they monitored four digital clocks running at different rates. In Study 1, we found that individual differences in spatial ability and executive functions were independent predictors of multiple-task performance. In Study 2, we found that individual differences in specific spatial abilities were selectively related to multiple-task performance, as only coordinate spatial processing, but not categorical, predicted multitasking, even beyond executive functioning and numeracy. In both studies, males outperformed females in spatial ability and multitasking and in Study 2 these sex differences generalized to a simulation of everyday multitasking. Menstrual changes moderated the effects on multitasking, in that sex differences in coordinate spatial processing and multitasking were observed between males and females in the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, but not between males and females at menses. Overall, these findings suggest that multiple-task performance reflects independent contributions of spatial ability and executive functioning. Furthermore, our results support the distinction of categorical versus coordinate spatial processing, and suggest that these two basic relational processes are selectively affected by female sex hormones and differentially effective in transforming and handling temporal patterns as spatial relations in the context of multitasking.

Keywords
individual differences, multitasking, spatial ability, sex differences, coordinate processing
National Category
Psychology
Research subject
Psychology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-122719 (URN)10.3758/s13421-015-0529-z (DOI)000364133600008 ()
Available from: 2015-11-10 Created: 2015-11-10 Last updated: 2017-12-01Bibliographically approved
2. Age-related differences in multiple task monitoring
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Age-related differences in multiple task monitoring
2014 (English)In: PLoS ONE, ISSN 1932-6203, E-ISSN 1932-6203, Vol. 9, no 9, article id e107619Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Coordinating multiple tasks with narrow deadlines is particularly challenging for older adults because of age related decline in cognitive control functions. We tested the hypothesis that multiple task performance reflects age- and gender-related differences in executive functioning and spatial ability. Young and older adults completed a multitasking session with four monitoring tasks as well as separate tasks measuring executive functioning and spatial ability. For both age groups, men exceeded women in multitasking, measured as monitoring accuracy. Individual differences in executive functioning and spatial ability were independent predictors of young adults' monitoring accuracy, but only spatial ability was related to sex differences. For older adults, age and executive functioning, but not spatial ability, predicted multitasking performance. These results suggest that executive functions contribute to multiple task performance across the adult life span and that reliance on spatial skills for coordinating deadlines is modulated by age.

Keywords
Multitasking, age-differences, cognition, spatial bility
National Category
Psychology
Research subject
Psychology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-107686 (URN)10.1371/journal.pone.0107619 (DOI)000341774300088 ()
Available from: 2014-09-24 Created: 2014-09-24 Last updated: 2017-12-05Bibliographically approved
3. Disrupting the pattern: Effects of concurrent spatial load on multitasking performance
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Disrupting the pattern: Effects of concurrent spatial load on multitasking performance
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

In this study, we tested the idea that adding concurrent spatial load, in the context of multiple task monitoring, will have detrimental effects on temporal coordination of deadlines. In line with previous studies, fluctuation in female sex hormones was expected to have accentuating effects on the results. Participants completed a computerized multitasking session, in which the spatial position of the component tasks was either static (i.e., with no changes in the task layout) or dynamic i.e., with positional changes of the components tasks every 3 min or 4 min). The results show that multitasking performance was reduced in the dynamic condition, possibly due to the higher demands on spatial ability. Furthermore, females in the luteal phase, during which reduced spatial ability is related to elevated estradiol levels, were more sensitive to the spatial load than males and females in the menstrual phase. These findings suggest that spatial disruption interferes with multitasking performance, and that fluctuations in female sex hormones contribute to these distracting effects. Results are discussed in terms of cognitive offloading of demands on executive control, and sex differences in spatial ability.

Keywords
executive functions, spatial ability, multitasking
National Category
Psychology
Research subject
Psychology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-138545 (URN)
Available from: 2017-01-25 Created: 2017-01-23 Last updated: 2017-01-31Bibliographically approved

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