Multitasking Behavior

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Description of Multitasking Behavior. Explanation.



Multitasking Behavior

Definition Multitasking Behavior. Description.

Multitasking Behavior is:

  • The act of executing more than one task at the same time.
  • The act of executing more than one task at the same time and quickly switching between these tasks.

The background of a multitasking behavior is probably the immediate response mentality sustained by current faster pace of life. Multitasking behavior is literally doing more things simultaneously.

The use of multitasking has increased dramatically both at work and and as a common behavior by people in their daily life. There are many requests that require a quick response from colleagues, friends and family, thus people are getting used to do more things at the same time.

Effects of Multitasking Behavior

  • As revealed by cognitive science research from Stanford University, focused on comparing the attention of multi-taskers versus mono-taskers, the consequence of multitasking behavior is a reduced efficiency in the execution of any process. Key findings of the study are that the more tasks we attempt to execute at the same time, the easier it is for our brain to get short of resources, just like a PC would, if asked many queries simultaneously. Therefore, due to the structure of the human brain we perform far better, in terms of efficacy and efficiency, if we are working in mono-task mode.
  • The attitude of focusing on a single subject at a time is like a mental muscle that, if trained, can help reaching higher performance in the execution of any task. On the contrary, repetitive multitasking behavior leads inevitably to increased stress levels, reduced memory overtime, and eventually burnout.

Task Switching in Multitasking Behavior


Although Multitasking is often seen as simply the performance of multiple tasks at the same time, another definition of the term is used as well. In this definition, multitasking involves the ability to perform two or more tasks at the same time, and also quickly switching from one task to the next task.

In cognitive science the emphasizes is on multitasking as switching between tasks; this field of science focuses on the costs of task switching and often compares it with the costs of performing multiple tasks at the same time.


When comparing task switching to non-task switching trials (performing two tasks at the same time) the following costs are involved with task switching:

  1. Errors and time costs: Experiments with subjects performing alternating different tasks either at the same time or switching tasks, it was found that those subjects who switched from one task to another needed more time and made more errors; hence costs of performing switching task trials are higher compared to costs involved when doing multiple task at the same time. Naturally if one can prepare for both tasks before starting than the costs of switching from the first tot the second task will be lower compared to the case in which no preparation is done. (Nevertheless, there will always be costs involved in task switching because of executive control processes which monitor the selection, the start, the performance and the end of each task, done by executives).
  2. Memory Capacity Constraints: With task switching, the tasks are performed after one another in rapid succession; they are not performed simultaneously. This creates costs that have to do with memory capacity: during the performance of the secondary task, information about the first task will be lost because of memory capacity constraints.

Source: Spink, A., Cole, C. and Waller, M. (2008), “Multitasking Behavior “. Annual Review of Information Science and Technology, Volume 42, Issue 1, pp. 93–118

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