Article “Multitasking in work-related situations and its relevance for occupational health and safety: Effects on performance, subjective strain and psychological performance, subjective strain, and physiological parameters” by Paridon and Kaufmann (2010) aimed to explore the concept of multitasking in the context of occupational health, which is becoming more important in the recent decade. The article supported previous research that concluded that multitasking decreases work-related performance. Therefore, the purpose was to study the mistakes to which multitasking may lead, and answer questions such as “do women multitask better?” or “do an employee’s multitasking skills reduce with age?”
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The article presented a review of studies that focused on performance changes and psycho-physiological changes, which occur during multitasking activities. For example, the authors distinguished the research conducted by Koch. Koch concluded that one’s performance decreases in quality when concurrent tasks are being performed. According to Koch (as cited in Paridon & Kaufmann, 2010), this occurs because “the reaction time to a second stimulus is significantly longer when it is presented very quickly after the stimulus” (p. 111). A study by Dey et al. (as cited in Paridon & Kaufmann, 2010) investigated psychophysiological changes that occur during multitasking activities by conducting an experiment involving music and driving behavior. It was shown that any music during simulated driving caused the increase in heart rate.
Paridon and Kaufmann (2010) also studied gender and age differences, which can also be beneficial in examining adequate job design to protect workers from decreased levels of performance, mental strain, and mistakes. It was concluded that gender differences, which influence the success in multitasking, manifest themselves depending on the nature and the type of the assignment. A great example is an experiment conducted with men and women that had been given landmark-based or Euclidean-based instructions for navigation within the matrix. It was shown that women exhibit better multitasking indicators when they perform landmark-based instruction in conjunction with visual-spatial tasks (Paridon & Kaufmann, 2010). Contrary to this, women showed the worst multitasking indicators when they had been asked to perform Euclidean-based instruction concurrently with articulating tasks. Furthermore, it was concluded that the ability to successfully conduct concurrent activities decreases with age. The type of task can also influence the impairment in performing concurrent activities; for example, difficulties in motor activities are far more evident with age compared to the performance of automatic processes.
Apart from reviewing relevant literature on the topic, Paridon and Kaufmann (2010) conducted an experiment with 32 male and 32 female participants from four age groups that were asked to perform a driving simulation and an activity usual in an office environment. For the driving task, researchers used the Lane-Change-task that was performed simultaneously with dialing a number on a cell phone, pulling a tissue out of a packet, retrieving a set amount of change from a purse, and reading out directions. Each participant was to drive and perform the mentioned tasks consecutively (Paridon & Kaufmann, 2010). Such an experiment was effective for investigating the quality of task performance in the context of multitasking. The results of the study showed that lane deviation when performing a secondary task was bigger than without it. The participants’ average heart rate increased from 80.5 to 86.1 beats per minute when the secondary task had been performed. The success in performing secondary office-related tasks also deteriorated.
The study was effective for exhibiting how secondary tasks can influence the performance of important assignments. Because the participants in the experiment experienced increased heart rate, a conclusion can be made that they were put under stress. There were no reported age and gender differences in how well participants completed the tasks included in the experiment. However, it is important to mention that participants did not show any indicators of increased heart rate when they were performing office-related tasks, although their chance of mistakes was higher.
Compared to previous studies, Paridon and Kaufmann (2010) did not find any gender differences in the ability to multitask. Although it can be concluded that no differences were found because the experiment was different from the ones conducted previously. Another interesting conclusion of the study is the lack of reported age differences in the age group. Despite the fact that previous research had found that success in performing concurrent tasks deteriorates with age, it was expected that the experiment would give a similar conclusion.
Although the study was limited to only examining similar-life scenarios contrast to actual experiences, it was beneficial for proving the initial hypothesis that the performance of two tasks simultaneously deteriorates the quality of these activities. In a work-related environment, mistakes during multitasking activities should be eliminated to the best possible extent. Because some of the multitasking actions can be potentially dangerous (answering a business call while driving), companies should establish specific rules and guidelines for occasions when multitasking should be reduced or eliminated completely. It is advised to conduct a similar experiment in real-life situations to see whether there are any gender or age differences in performing multiple activities simultaneously.
Paridon, H., & Kaufmann, M. (2010). Multitasking in work-related situations and its relevance for occupational health and safety: Effects on performance, subjective strain and psychological performance, subjective strain and physiological parameters. Europe’s Journal of Psychology, 4, 110-124.