October 25, 2012, 4:48 PM — Who's your multitasking daddy? That's right, ladies, it's us men.
I shouldn't gloat, because I am definitely one of the less-adept multitaskers of my gender, demonstrably inferior to my wife. Plus, to be honest, the advantage males in a Swedish study had in successfully handling several tasks at once was not due to any innate intellectual or physical superiority. It had to do with reproductive biology.
The study by Stockholm University psychologist Timo Maentylae involved 160 men and women between ages 20 and 43 who were tasked with keeping track of three digital clocks running at different speeds and recording the times based on researcher instructions.
But it gets trickier. As the U.K.'s Daily Mail explains, "[T]hey also had to watch a scrolling ticker featuring common Swedish names, pressing the mouse button when one of the names was repeated."
The men generally did better than the women, but how much better (if any) depended on the menstrual cycles of the female study participants.
Quoted by Agence France-Presse, Maentylae explained, "Previous studies have shown that women's spatial skills vary across the menstrual cycle with high capacity around menstruation and much lower around ovulation, when oestrogen levels are high. The results showed a clear difference in multitasking between men and women in the ovulation phase, while this effect was eliminated for women in the menstrual phase."
The test results may challenge but are unlikely to permanently debunk the generally accepted wisdom that women -- who are burdened with the vast majority of household and parental responsibilities, even when they have jobs outside the home -- are better multitaskers than men.
Nor should it. Keeping track of a few clocks while a bunch of names are shoved in your face is hardly comparable to the multiple challenges many women successfully confront every single day. And I'm not saying that just because my wife reads this blog.
Maentylae's study will be published in the peer-reviewed journal Psychological Science.