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October 25, 2013 by APRIL McCARTHY
Are Women Better At Finding Things and Multi-tasking?

If you can't find your keys, ask a woman. Research suggests that females are better than males at multitasking -- and particularly if those tasks include searching for lost items.
A key limitation to efficient multitasking is the speed with which our prefrontal cortex processes information, and that this speed is drastically increased in females. In males, it does not come naturally but can be increased through training and practice. With training, the 'thinking' regions of our brain become very fast at doing each task, thereby quickly freeing them up to take on other tasks.

Even though multitasking is hardest in the morning, women are likely to be better at finding car keys during the early morning rush, in which breakfast has to be eaten, children dressed and teeth and hair brushed.

Previous studies have shown that the time of day greatly affects human's reaction time. This performance decrement is constantly found during the night with its' lowest point in the early morning. This leads to the assumption that the time of day directly affects the speed of cognitive processing.

Glasgow, Leeds and Hertfordshire university researchers said that women may be ‘superior at tasks requiring high-level cognitive control'.

They pitted men against women in two experiments designed to simulate real-life situations in which people have to juggle several tasks and work out how best to switch from one to the other while still getting everything done.

Examples of this include working in a busy office or cooking several dishes at once for a meal.

In the first battle of the sexes, the volunteers played a computer game that required rapid changes of attention.

Both genders slowed down but the women slowed less.

This, say the researchers, suggests that they found multitasking easier.

In the second experiment, volunteers were given eight minutes to complete a set of sums, search for restaurants on a map and sketch out the route they would take to search for a set of keys lost in a field.

They also had to deal with the distraction of a ringing phone -- and answer some general knowledge questions if they picked it up.

The two sexes did similarly well on all the tasks bar the key hunt -- in which the searches planned by the women were judged to be clearly superior, the journal BMC Psychology reports.

The key hunt task is seen as a good measure of how adept someone is at strategic planning. When it is the only thing to be done, both sexes are equally good at it.

But the experiment showed that men's ability to plan a search for lost keys breaks down when put under the pressure of multitasking.

The researchers said that while the work needs to be repeated with bigger groups of volunteers, the results suggest that women are better at multitasking.

Although many people believe this to be true and women generally multitask more than men, the topic has been little studied until now.

It has been suggested that women's superiority at juggling tasks has its roots in evolution.

Lead researcher, Gijsbert Stoet, of Glasgow University, said: ‘In the Stone Age, men could probably go out and hunt for food, whereas the women stayed at the base and multi-tasked.

‘They were always looking out for their toddlers and other children, while doing other stuff like gathering mushrooms and fruits and doing mending and making stone tools.

‘Men probably have somewhat more of a one-track mind.'

Dr Stoet said that the research helps shed light on why boys and men suffer more from attention disorders than women.

It also has implications for working life.

The researcher said: ‘The workplace has lots of gadgets that are constantly asking for our attention and it turns out that distractions really cause our performance to deteriorate.'

April McCarthy is a community journalist playing an active role reporting and analyzing world events to advance our health and eco-friendly initiatives.

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