Men are better at multitasking than women

A bold statement, because it is generally assumed that women are better at multitasking than men. Women could perform several tasks at the same time, such as ironing, making phone calls, doing the laundry, looking after the children, etc. This would not apply to men, but a study by Stockholm University shows the opposite. Contrary to popular belief, women are not better at multitasking than men. The opposite turns out to be true.


Professor Timo Mäntylä, a psychologist at Stockholm University (Sweden) subjected 160 men and women between the ages of 20 and 43 to various tests. The subjects had to look at numbers on three clocks that ticked at different speeds. They were asked to indicate when numbers ending in 11, 22, 33, appeared on the first clock; when numbers ending in 10, 20, 30 appeared on the second clock; and on the third clock numbers ending in 25, 50, 75. The clocks were not visible at the same time: the participants had to consciously make one of the clocks visible. At the same time, names appeared on a screen for two seconds, and they were asked to indicate when they encountered the same name as four names previously. After this test, the subjects were subjected to a spatial insight test.


The results show that men and women score equally well on average, but the women’s menstrual cycle plays a major role. Women perform significantly better when they have their period and estrogen levels are lower than around ovulation when estrogen levels peak. During menstruation, women are better at performing multiple tasks at the same time.


Spatial insight and working memory are important when performing different tasks simultaneously. It is precisely this spatial insight that fluctuates depending on the amount of hormones (estrogen) present. In general, men have better spatial awareness than women, which has to do with the fact that men have higher testosterone and lower estrogen levels.

Multitasking or switchtasking?

The term ‘multitasking’ is a computer term that indicates that several processes are running simultaneously. The term is often used incorrectly when people do different things at the same time. Many of us, mothers in particular, would like to believe that we can perform several tasks at the same time. However, the human brain is not capable of performing multiple, somewhat complex, actions at the same time. In most cases we tend to engage in ‘switch tasking’: alternating actions, sometimes very quickly (up to a few times per second), between different tasks.

Only 2% of the population can really multitask

Only 2% of the population are true multitaskers. This is due to a different brain structure. Research via scanners shows that the brains light up differently in true multitaskers than in monotaskers. A ingenuity of nature, but according to scientists it is disadvantageous in the sense that the various tasks are performed less well than those of a monotasker. This is probably also the reason why more of us have not evolved to this differently structured brain. We all benefit from doing one task well at once. So, dear men, are you one of the 2% of real multitaskers or are you, like most of us, just switchtaskers?