Human adult multitasking : developing and applying a methodology
Multitasking situations (e.g. cooking a meal, office work) occur frequently in everyday life. Previous research has concentrated on the deficits of neurological patients, however it is also important to understand how the healthy brain deals with these complex situations. Therefore the aim was to develop a methodology for studying multitasking in healthy adults, and to apply that methodology to investigate the cognitive processes involved in multitasking. The first 4 experiments used a test of multitasking which involved swapping repeatedly between simple perceptual and manual sub-tasks. It was found that the opportunity for pre-planning did not facilitate performance (Experiment 1), and that interruptions did not disrupt multitasking efficiency (Experiment 2 & 3). experiment 4 validated the test by showing that a sample of 7 dysexecutive patients (for whom poor performance would be expected) were impaired relative to matched controls. Experiments 5-9 used another test of multitasking (the Virtual Errands Test of McGeorge et al., 2001) that involved navigating in a virtual environment to complete errands within a time limit. Experiment 5 found that the opportunity for pre-planning was beneficial in terms of route efficiency. Experiments 6-9 (using a more challenging version of the test) found some evidence that interruptions had a disruptive effect on performance, but overall participants coped well with being interrupted. Therefore, experiment 9 tried a different type of distraction; namely a secondary task that had to be undertaken throughout the Virtual Errands Test. When the secondary task loaded the executive resources of working memory, there was greater interference than when the secondary task was designed to load only the Phonological Loop. The involvement of working memory is discussed, as is the involvement of the tree cognitive components of multitasking according to the model of Burgess et al. (2000); retrospective memory, prospective memory and planning.