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Disrupting the pattern: Effects of concurrent spatial load on multitasking performance
Stockholm University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Psychology.
(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 [en]
executive functions, spatial ability, multitasking
National Category
Psychology
Research subject
Psychology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-138545OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-138545DiVA, id: diva2:1068385
Available from: 2017-01-25 Created: 2017-01-23 Last updated: 2017-01-31Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Individual Differences in Multitasking: Support for Spatiotemporal Offloading
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Individual Differences in Multitasking: Support for Spatiotemporal Offloading
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
multitasking, cognitive offloading, cognitive functions, individual differences, executive functions, spatial ability, sex differences
National Category
Psychology
Research subject
Psychology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-138728 (URN)978-91-7649-660-2 (ISBN)978-91-7649-661-9 (ISBN)
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

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