Gender Differences in Multitasking Abilities
Sponsored by Missouri Western State University Sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation DUE-97-51113
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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
HAVEL, M. A. (2004). Gender Differences in Multitasking Abilities. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 7. Available online at Retrieved April 25, 2017 .

Gender Differences in Multitasking Abilities

Sponsored by: MUKUL BHALLA (

Differences in multitasking abilities between males and females were investigated by testing performance on verbal and spatial tests while engaging in another task simultaneously. The participants were Loyola undergraduate students. Their verbal and spatial abilities were measured by completion of mazes and word searches while listening for a keyword in a story. It was hypothesized that males would perform better at spatial tasks and females would perform better in the tasks related to verbal skills. The experiment also tested the participant’s ability to tally a keyword mentioned in a story while completing the given verbal and spatial tests. It was also hypothesized that females would perform better at completing the two simultaneous tasks. There was no difference in the ability of either males or females to complete tasks simultaneously.

Gender Differences in Multi-tasking Abilities

For years society has struggled with the concept of gender equality. While there are stereotypes for both males and females, it is important to separate truth from common misconception. Equality is a concept that is considered extremely important between genders today. However, what if males and females shouldn’t be treated the same? Perhaps males and females are not completely equal. If both genders have different cognitive processes, then approaching problems the same way would prove to be impairing. If research can identify and better understand gender differences, then males and females can potentially approach situations in a way that best suits them. A study conducted by Swann (1992) looked at the differences in verbal skills between boys and girls. Swann administered the Assessment of Performance Unit (APU), a survey test that evaluates both reading and writing skills in children between the ages of 11 and 15. Swann’s results found that the girls scored significantly higher than the boys on the writing portion of the test with a girl’s percentage frequency peaking at 12. The boys on the other hand reached a slightly lower percentage frequency of 10. Overall, the girl’s scores were slightly higher. From this study Swann concluded that girls were better than boys in verbal skills. problems. Group 2 scores were similar for the unconventional free response problems; however the females scored lower than the males on the conventional problems. The males averaged In a more recent study by Cahalan (2000) hypothesized that differences in gender are reduced when participants were tested with free response problems compared to multiple-choice problems. The study included 28 participants, 14 male and 14 female high school seniors or juniors. All participants in the study scored higher then a 650 on the math portion of the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT). The participants were split into two groups, each group was made up of 7 males and 7 females. The first group was given math problems, both conventional and unconventional, in multiple-choice format. The second group also received math problems of the same level, both conventional and unconventional as group one, but in free response format. Results found that both males and females from group 1 answered approximately 5 out of 6 conventional multiple-choice problems correct. Females averaged 3.66 correct for the unconventional problems while males averaged 5.33 correct out of 6. The males in group 1 scored significantly higher than the females in group 1 on the unconventional 4.33 and the females averaged 2.33. From this study one can see that there is a difference between males and females when completing free response mathematical problems. Another researcher, Voyer (1998), focused on past research in gender differences, spatial tasks, and mathematical achievement. Voyer pointed out that past research on these topics has been tested exclusively with the use of paper and pencil tests. Voyer expressed the need to make a distinction between mathematical abilities performed in a laboratory, such as standardized testing, and mathematical abilities in the classroom. Voyer hypothesized that performance in mathematics served as a suppressing variable when related to gender differences in spatial ability. It was found that there is a gender difference in classroom and laboratory mathematical skills. Females were more successful in a classroom performance and males were more successful when laboratory tests were used. Stumpf (1993) researched gender differences in mental rotations. The CTY Spatial Test Battery was administered to a sample of summer high school students, with the youngest at age 13 and the oldest at age 18. Stumpf hypothesized that mental rotations are the reason for gender related differences. From the results, he gathered that both males and females answered more than 95% of the items they attempted correct. However, there was a significant difference between genders in both the recognition division and the mental manipulations portion of the test; the gender differences were greatest in the mental rotations portion, in favor of the males. From this test Stumpf concluded that males perform better at mental rotations. Maccoby and Jacklin (1974) looked at the verbal performances of preschoolers. They found that girls say there first word earlier and speak in longer sentences than boys do. They also found that males learn to read at an older age than females. On grammar and spelling tests, females overall performed better than males. Based on the above research literature, it was hypothesized that males would perform better at spatial tasks and females would perform better in the tasks related to verbal skills. It was also hypothesized that females would perform better at completing simultaneous tasks

MethodParticipantsSixty Loyola undergraduate students (30 male and 30 female) volunteered for our study. All participants were recruited by word of mouth. Word traveled through popular campus hangouts as well as campus dormitories. Because the participants recruited were so readily available for our study, the sample was a convenience sample. MaterialsEach participant received a packet containing two copies of the informed consent, a brief survey, a maze instruction sheet, four mazes, a word search instruction sheet, and two word searches. A copy of the survey, instruction sheets, mazes, and word searches can be found in Appendix A. Pens were provided to the participants. The survey contained five questions pertaining to the participant’s views on multitasking and how each rated their individual multitasking skills. The maze instruction sheet had instructions to complete as many mazes as possible in the given time while simultaneously listening to a story and tallying a keyword. The maze instruction sheet contained room for tallying every time the keyword in the story was heard. The story, entitled Rabbit, was 437 words in length and the keyword rabbit was mentioned 16 times. The title of both stories contained the keyword the participants would be looking for. For example, the story containing the key word “rabbit” was titled The Rabbit. As a control the stories were recorded on audio cassette, the same voice was used for both of the stories and the stories were the same length. A copy of both stories can be found in Appendix A. Similar to the maze instruction sheet, the word search instruction sheet explained that the participants would be completing as much as two word search puzzles as possible in the given time. Again the participants simultaneously tallied the keyword in a story. This time the keyword was “blue bird” and it was mentioned 17 times. Design and Procedure The design of the study was a 2x2 between group design. The Independent variables were gender and tasks assigned. Each of the Independent variables contained 2 levels, male and female, and mazes and word searches. The dependent variable was how much of the given task was completed. As a control, the “rabbit” story was continuously paired with the maze activity and the “blue bird” story was continuously paired with the word search activity. Participants were tested in groups ranging from 2-10students. The study was conducted in a study room in either the campus library or the study room in Cabra Hall. When the participants arrived each one received a packet containing two copies of the consent form. Once the consent forms were read and signed, the participants were informed to remove the paper clip holding their packet together. This allowed them to flip through the packet with ease when the testing began. The participants moved on to the maze instruction sheet. Here the students were to complete a few questions and read the directions. When the participants indicted that they were done with the instruction sheet, they were asked if they had any questions. At this time the story was ready to be played. Experimenters explained to the participants that they were going to hear a story that was recorded on tape. The title of the story was their indication to begin and the keyword they were listening for. It was made clear that the title was not to be tallied. When the story played the participants completed as much of the four maze activities as possible while listening and tallying each keyword. When the story was done the tape indicated for them to stop. Participants turned the page to the word search instruction sheet and they were told to read the directions. When the participants were done they were told again that the title of the story was their indication to begin and it was also the keyword they would be looking for. Here the participants were to complete as much of the word search activity as possible while simultaneously tallying the keyword. When both activities were completed, the participants were debriefed. In the debriefing process they were told what the principal investigators were testing for, gender differences in verbal and spatial ability. Participants were also informed that if they had any questions they should contact the counseling and career center. After the debriefing, the participants were thanked for their time and dismissed.

ResultsThe findings of this study showed that there was not a difference in spatial abilities and verbal skills between genders; however, the difference was slight. Males scored a higher mean for their performance in the spatial task; males scored an average of 3.37 mazes completed (SD=.850) and the females scored an average of 3.13 mazes completed (SD= .776). The hypothesis that males would perform better at spatial tasks was not supported. There was no significant difference between the number of mazes completed and gender (F(1,58) = 1.232, ns). On the verbal portion of the study the females scored a higher mean than the males. The females scored a mean of 9.97 words found (SD = 3.057) and the males scored an average of 8.60 words found (SD = 2.313). The hypothesis that females would perform better in verbal skills was not supported, however, the difference between the male and female scores approached significance (F(1,58) = 3.813, p = .056).

DiscussionThough the results were slightly supportive of the hypothesis that females would perform better in verbal skills and males would perform better in spatial tasks, the difference was not a significant one. There was no significance in the findings to claim a gender difference in verbal and spatial tasks or carrying out simultaneous tasks.Because the results were not significant, it can not be implied that males perform better with spatial tasks and females perform better with verbal skills. This study does however add to the knowledge of gender differences and psychology. The more information that is obtained, the better the understanding we have as to just how equal genders are. The results of this study were supportive of the research used to help form the hypotheses. An explanation to why the results are not significant could be that are sample size was too small. Another problem with this study is the sample type. This study was a convenience sample; making the results more difficult to generalize to the entire undergraduate college population.

ReferencesCahalan, C., & Morely, M. (2000). Gender Differences in advanced mathematical problem solving. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 75, 165-190.Stumpf, H. (1993). Performance factors and gender-related differences in spatial ability. Memory and Cognition, 21, 828-836.Swann, J. (1992). Girls, Boys & Language. Cambridge: Blackwell Publishers.Voyer, D. (1998). Mathematics, gender, spatial performance, and cerebral organization:A suppression effect in talented students [Review of the journal article The relation between mathematical aceivement and gender differences in spatial abilities: a suppression effect]. Roeper Review, 20, 251-258.Electronic reference formats reccomended by Ed Psyc Central PsychoeducationalResource Center.(2001, July 11). Retrieved March 10, 2003 from

Submitted 10/14/2004 2:52:59 PM
Last Edited 10/14/2004 2:56:26 PM
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