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APPLIED COGNITIVE PSYCHOLOGY

Appl. Cognit. Psychol. 24: 11491167 (2010) Published online 21 September 2009 in Wiley Online Library (wileyonlinelibrary.com) DOI: 10.1002/acp.1624

Predictors of Multitasking Performance in a Synthetic Work Paradigm


DAVID Z. HAMBRICK1*, FREDERICK L. OSWALD2, EMILY S. DAROWSKI1, TARA A. RENCH1 and RANDY BROU3
Michigan State University, USA 2 Rice University, USA 3 Navy Personnel Research, Studies, & Technology, USA
1

SUMMARY This study investigated determinants of success in a synthetic work task designed to reect the requirement for multitasking that is common to many occupations. Participants were administered tests of working memory capacity (WMC) and processing speed (PS), and they reported experience with videogames, a type of activity presumed to involve multitasking. Results revealed that WMC was a strong predictor of multitasking in a non-emergency condition when the pace of the tasks was relatively slow, whereas PS was a weaker predictor. Additionally, there was evidence for the incremental validity of videogame experience (VGE), consistent with the possibility that multitasking is supported by a general, trainable skill. Finally, individual differences in strategy use accounted for a large proportion of the variance in multitasking, above and beyond other predictor variables, and WMC predicted use of an effective strategy. Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

The requirement to perform multiple tasks, all more or less at the same time, is pervasive in todays world. Multiple examples likely come to mind, such as driving a car while talking on a cell phone, cooking dinner while ironing clothes or monitoring childrens behaviour. In the work world, an example comes from our initial research in this areathe job of electrical system supervisor, in which a worker must monitor the ow of electricity in a power grid covering multiple counties of a state, while in real time prioritizing and addressing incoming emergency outages caused by a thunderstorm. The ability to perform in environments like these has been a focus of discussions about the changing world of work, and has been mentioned as a core component of adaptability (e.g. Ilgen & Pulakos, 1999). Two general approaches to research on multitasking have emerged. The rst approach focuses on the question of whether there is a special ability for multitasking, sometimes referred to as time-sharing ability. The typical procedure in this approach is to administer participants a battery of cognitive ability tests, along with measures thought to measure time-sharing. Typically, in a time-sharing paradigm, one task is designated a primary task and the other a secondary task, and time-sharing is operationally dened as performance
*Correspondence to: David Z. Hambrick, Department of Psychology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824, USA. E-mail: hambric3@msu.edu

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differences in single-task vs. dual-task conditions. The cognitive ability and time sharing measures are then entered into a factor analysis to see whether a time-sharing factor emerges that is empirically distinct from established cognitive ability factors (e.g. Brookings, 1990). There is some recent empirical research suggesting the existence of a time-sharing ability. In a study by Salthouse and Miles (2002), participants rst performed three primary tasks: keeping track of directions, completing sequences of numbers and remembering pairs of words. They then performed each task in combination with a pursuit tracking task (the secondary task), in which the goal was to keep a cursor positioned over a target. For each pair, time-sharing was dened as the dual-task decrement in tracking performance. Salthouse and Miles found that the measures of time-sharing correlated relatively strongly with each other, but relatively weakly with measures of other cognitive abilities, suggesting a distinct multitasking ability. Nevertheless, a time-sharing factor has not always been observed in the past studies (e.g. Fogarty, 1987; Fogarty & Stankov, 1988; Stankov, 1988), and whether such a factor emerges in factor-analytic studies like this depends on a number of factors, such as what tasks are used, how single-task performance is taken into account, how dual-task performance is dened, the rotation procedure in the factor analysis, and the reliability of the dual-task measures, to name just a few (see Ackerman, Schneider, & Wickens, 1984, for a thorough discussion). The second approach to multitasking research focuses more broadly on multitasking as a class of situations. Dening multitasking as situations in which the performer must make conscious shifts of attention between two or more tasks (see also Spink, Cole, & Waller, 2008), Oswald, Hambrick, and Jones (2007) described a model for investigating determinants of multitasking that orders potential predictor variables on a continuum from distal (indirect) to proximal (direct) causes. Distal predictors include general dimensions of psychological functioning, including intelligence and personality, while proximal predictors include task-specic knowledge and strategies, and state variables like goal orientation, anxiety and perceived workload.

PRESENT STUDY The current research uses this second approach to study the predictors of multitasking in a synthetic work task, illustrated in Figure 1. In Elsmores (1994) SynWin, there are four component tasks. In arithmetic, which is self-paced, the goal is to add numbers together, clicking Done to register the answer. In memory search, a list of letters is presented at the beginning of the session and then disappears. After the list disappears, a series of different probe letters is displayed, with the goal to judge whether each probe letter is from the set. In auditory monitoring, the goal is to respond to a high-pitch tone, and to ignore a low-pitch tone. Finally, in visual monitoring, a needle moves from right to left across a display resembling a fuel gauge, and the goal is to reset the needle before it reaches the red region. Points are awarded for correct responses and deducted for incorrect responses, and the subjects goal is to coordinate performance of the tasks to maximize overall score (see Wong, 2005, and Proctor, Wang, & Pick, 1998, for more detailed descriptions of SynWin). SynWin obviously does not resemble any particular job, but rather is designed to capture the demand for coordinating multiple tasks that is common to many different occupations. We are unaware of any empirical demonstrations of the validity of SynWin for job performance. Nevertheless, there have been several reports of correlations between
Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Appl. Cognit. Psychol. 24: 11491167 (2010) DOI: 10.1002/acp

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Figure 1. Elsmores (1994) SynWin. The component tasks are: Math (top-right); Memory search (top-left); Visual monitoring (bottom-left) and Auditory monitoring (bottom-right)

objective measures of job performance and success in timesharing paradigms somewhat similar to SynWin (but involving only two tasks). As two examples, Trankell (1959) found that scores in a test of simultaneous capacity reecting the ability to perform a tapping task while solving complex problems correlated moderately (r .42) with ight training success, and North and Gopher (1976) found that the ability to concurrently perform compensatory tracking and digit monitoring tasks was a positive predictor of succeeding in a ight certication checkride. Thus, there is reason to think that SynWin may prove useful as a predictor of performance in occupations such as pilot where demands on multitasking are presumably high. Overview The study described in this article focused on predictors of multitasking, as assessed by SynWin. To preview, we were especially interested in the role of working memory. As Baddeley and Hitch (1974) rst proposed, working memory is a system responsible for both information storage and processing in the service of complex cognition. The particular model that Baddeley and Hitch proposed comprises domain-specic components for temporary storage and maintenance of verbal information (the phonological loop) and visuospatial information (the visuospatial sketchpad), along with a domain-general component (the central executive) responsible for coordinating use of these storage systems and for controlling attention. An updated version of this model includes a third storage systemthe episodic bufferwhich is responsible for temporary maintenance of unitary episodic representations reecting information integrated from the other storage systems, and from long-term memory (Baddeley, 2000). The primary goal of this study was to investigate working memory capacity (WMC) as a predictor of multitasking performance. WMC has been conceptualized as a cognitive
Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Appl. Cognit. Psychol. 24: 11491167 (2010) DOI: 10.1002/acp

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primitive underlying variation in a wide range of complex tasks, and is typically measured with complex span tasks that involve interleaved processing and storage components (Conway, Kane, Bunting, Hambrick, Wilhelm, & Engle, 2005). We have argued that these tasks capture an executive attention construct that is similar to the central executive (Kane, Hambrick, Tuholski, Wilhelm, Payne, & Engle, 2004). Participants also performed tests of processing speed (PS) and reported on experience in a class of activity presumed to involve multitaskingplaying videogames. We performed correlational analyses to test for effects of the predictor variables on scores in SynWin, and on indices of strategy use. A brief review of the literature on potential sources of variance in multitasking performance follows. Cognitive determinants of complex task performance Psychometric intelligence (g) has long been regarded as the single best predictor of work performance across a wide range of occupations (e.g. Schmidt & Hunter, 1998), and it would be expected to predict performance in multitasking work environments given their complex nature. Validity coefcients between g and performance outcomes are almost always positive, but vary in magnitude depending on the complexity of the job, with higher values for more complex jobs than for less complex jobs, taking reliability and range restriction effect into account (Hunter, Schmidt, & Judiesch, 1990). Nevertheless, the question of what psychometric g representsbeyond the statement that it reects the variance common to some set of ability variableshas remained unanswered in any denitive sense for more than a century after Spearman (1904) rst observed it. One approach to answering this question attempts to link measures assumed to reect basic cognitive processes or components with individual differences in complex task performance (e.g. Sternberg, 1979). WMC is viewed as one such component. Daneman and Carpenter (1980) designed the reading span task to measure individual differences in WMC, and specically to selectively engage the central executive. In this task, the participant is to read a series of sentences, while remembering the nal word of each for later recall. In a similar taskoperation spanthe goal is to solve math problems, while remembering a word following each (Turner & Engle, 1989). Scores in these and other complex span tasks are highly reliable, and correlate positively with success across a wide variety of complex cognitive tasks, including language comprehension, decision making, problem solving and complex learning, to name a few (see Conway et al., 2005, for a review). There is also evidence that WMC is strongly related to psychometric g, but especially to uid intelligence (Gf), as measured with tasks like Ravens Progressive Matrices. As one example, Kane et al. (2004) found a correlation of .64 between a factor comprising six complex span measures and Gf (see also Kyllonen & Christal, 1990). Some have even suggested that WMC and general intelligence are one and the same (Kyllonen, 1996), although the available empirical evidence appears to be more consistent with the possibility that the two constructs are highly related, though distinct (e.g. Ackerman, Beier, & Boyle, 2005; Kane, Hambrick, & Conway, 2005). Evidence further suggests that WMC is related to the ability to control the focus of attention. In a study by Kane, Bleckley, Conway, and Engle (2001), participants classied as low or high in operation span (low-span or high-span) performed a simple task in which a ashing cue always appeared on the same side of a computer screen as a subsequent target letter (the prosaccade condition), or on the opposite side (the antisaccade condition). Kane
Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Appl. Cognit. Psychol. 24: 11491167 (2010) DOI: 10.1002/acp

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et al. found that high-spans outperformed low-spans in the antisaccade condition, but not in the prosaccade condition, and they argued that this was because, in the antisaccade condition, high-spans were better able to maintain an appropriate goal (Dont look toward the cue!) in the face of a highly distracting stimulus. In another study, by Conway, Cowan, and Bunting (2001), subjects performed a dichotic listening task in which they were instructed to repeat aloud (or shadow) information heard in one ear, while ignoring information heard in the other ear. Conway et al. found that 65% of low-span subjects, but only 20% of high-span subjects, noticed that their own name was presented in the unattended channel. As a nal example, using an experience-sampling methodology, Kane, Brown, Little, Silvia, Myin-Germeys, and Kwapil (2007) found that high-spans were less likely to report off-task thoughts during challenging everyday activities than were low-spans. Based on this sort of evidence, Engle and colleagues (e.g. Engle, 2002) have proposed that WMC reects executive attention, a construct closely related toand perhaps even isomorphic withBaddeley and colleagues concept of the central executive. The main function of executive attention is to maintain goal relevant information such as task goals in an active state, especially under conditions of distraction or interference, or when attention must be momentarily shifted away from the information (Engle & Kane, 2004). Components of multitasking performance There are at least two sources of individual differences in multitasking. First, people may differ in how well they perform the component tasks in isolation, which may arise from individual differences in domain-specic components of the working memory system. SynWin may engage the phonological loop for maintaining the set of letters in memory search and solving arithmetic problems, especially those requiring carries (Logie, Zucco, & Baddeley, 1990), and possibly the visuospatial sketchpad for visualizing the position of the needle in the visual monitoring task while looking away from the gauge. Second, people may differ in their ability to sequence, or coordinate, the component tasks. In fact, when some or all of these tasks are very simple when performed in isolationwhich is the case in SynWinthis may be the major source of variance in multitasking. The central executive may be the primary locus of individual differences in multitasking under such circumstances. Another factor that has been conceptualized as a cognitive primitive is the rate of basic mental operations. In recent decades, processing speed (PS) has been a major focus of research on cognitive development in both childhood (e.g. Kail, 2007) and adulthood (e.g. Salthouse, 1996). This body of research has established that PS, which is typically measured by tests requiring very simple comparisons (e.g. of letter strings), accounts for large proportions of age-related effectsincreases in childhood and decreases in adulthoodin various measures of complex cognition. In fact, a study by Salthouse, Hambrick, Lukas, and Dell (1996), PS accounted for nearly all of the advantage for young adults over older adults in SynWin performance. The status of PS as a major contributor to individual differences (as opposed to agerelated differences) in complex cognition is less clear. WMC and PS are related on both theoretical and empirical levels. Salthouse (1996) proposed a simultaneity mechanism whereby products of successive mental operations are more likely to be simultaneously active in fast vs. slow processors (i.e. young vs. old adults), and evidence suggests that the capacity of the phonological loop is around the number of words that can be pronounced in
Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Appl. Cognit. Psychol. 24: 11491167 (2010) DOI: 10.1002/acp

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2 seconds (Baddeley, Thomson, & Buchanan, 1975). At the same time, evidence indicates that WMC and PS are empirically distinct. In studies of young adults, correlations between measures of PS and WMC tend to be only moderate in magnitude (e.g. Ackerman, Beier, & Boyle, 2002; Kyllonen & Christal, 1990; Oberauer, Su, Schulze, Wilhelm, & Wittmann, 2003), and WMC is generally found to be a stronger predictor of complex cognition than is PS. For example, Conway, Cowan, Bunting, Therriault, and Minkoff (2002) found that WMC was a signicant predictor of Gf, whereas processing speed was not (see also Hambrick & Oswald, 2005). That stated, PS may be especially important in jobs such as 911 operator or emergency room nurse where rapid responding is sometimes required. In the present study, we tested for effects of PS on multitasking under both slow-paced and fast-paced conditions.

The role of experience Another question that we addressed in this study pertains to the role of relevant past experience in multitasking performance. As already mentioned, a variety of everyday situations require multitasking. We are interested in whether there are transferable skills for multitasking that are acquired through such activities, and focused here on one particular class of experience: videogame experience (VGE). There have been several reports of benecial effects of VGE on basic cognitive processes. For example, videogame players have been found to outperform non-videogame players in a variety of selective attention and spatial discrimination paradigms (e.g. Green & Bavelier, 2003, 2006a, 2006b, 2007). In this study, we were interested in whether VGE would predict multitasking in SynWin, above and beyond any prediction by our set of cognitive ability measures. The discovery of an incremental effect of VGE would provide evidence consistent with the possibility of a trainable skill for multitasking.

Goals of study Based on the preceding discussion of the components and predictors of multitasking, two goals were addressed in this study. The rst goal was to investigate the role of WMC, PS and VGE in multitasking, as measured by SynWin. There were two SynWin conditions. For the rst four blocks, the pace of the tasks was relatively slow, and the payoffs were set such that the largest number of points could be earned by focusing on the quadrant for arithmetic tasks. For the nal four blocks, the pace of the memory search, visual monitoring and auditory monitoring tasks was doubled, and the payoffs were changed so that more points were awarded for correct responses in these tasks than in arithmetic. Henceforth, we refer to these two conditions as the Baseline Condition and Emergency Condition, respectively, given that emergencies in multitasking environments quite frequently involve an increased pace of tasks. On the one hand, we predicted that WMC would be a positive predictor of performance, irrespective of task pace, given that both conditions require control of attention, and real-time encoding, storage and retrieval of task-relevant information. On the other hand, we predicted that PS would have its strongest effect on performance in the Emergency condition, given the greater demand on rapid responding in this condition. The second goal of this study was to investigate the role of strategy use in multitasking. In the context of cognitive task performance, there is no universally agreed upon denition
Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Appl. Cognit. Psychol. 24: 11491167 (2010) DOI: 10.1002/acp

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of strategy, although the term is generally understood to refer to an approach to engaging the cognitive system to accomplish a goal when other approaches are possible (e.g. Schunn, McGregor, & Saner, 2005; Siegler, 1988). For example, given the task of remembering a list of words, the subject may elect to repeat the words in rote fashion until cued for recall, or to generate a sentence or image that connects the words in a meaningful way (e.g. Turley-Ames & Whiteld, 2003). The ability to form and use appropriate strategies has been found to contribute to success in a wide variety of tasksfrom simple tasks like arithmetic (e.g. Siegler, 1988) to complex tasks like leadership (e.g. Schunn et al., 2005) and has been investigated using a number of approaches, including verbal protocol analysis (Ericsson & Simon, 1984) and eye tracking (e.g. Carpenter, Just, & Shell, 1990). As illustrated in Figure 2, in this study we capitalized on the availability of mouse click data in SynWin to infer the use of some basic strategies. More specically, we computed two types of response probabilities (RPs): within-task RPs, reecting the likelihood that a response in one task would be followed by a response in that same task, and between-task RPs, reecting the likelihood that a response in one task would be followed by a response in one of the other tasks. Using the RPs, we addressed two questions. First, would individual differences in strategy use uniquely account for individual differences in SynWin? Would strategy use account for variance in SynWin scores, above and beyond any contribution of other predictor variables? Second, would the individual difference characteristics that we assessed predict use of an effective strategy? To the extent that WMC reects the ability to control attention, then it should predict use of effective strategies in multitasking situations: By denition, multitasking requires shifting attention among tasks. Furthermore, people may learn general strategies for multitasking through VGE. As described in more detail below, we evaluated these possibilities by correlating indices of strategy use (RPs) with measures of the predictor constructs.

Figure 2. Illustration of response probabilities (RPs) in SynWin. Within-task RPs are represented by double-headed arrows, and between-task RPs by unidirectional arrows
Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Appl. Cognit. Psychol. 24: 11491167 (2010) DOI: 10.1002/acp

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METHOD Participants The participants (approximately 71% female) were 131 undergraduate students recruited from introductory psychology courses at Michigan State University who voluntarily participated in exchange for course credit.1 We assume that the range of cognitive ability was restricted in this sample, given that all participants were college students at the time of testing. That stated, college entrance exam scores (ACT) at MSU typically have a mean of around 24 (SD 3.5), and so we assume that our sample was selective relative to all US students who apply to college (ACT M 21, SD 4), but not extremely so. Materials and procedure Participants were tested in groups of 410 in two sessions, each session lasting approximately 1.5 hours. The following materials were administered (as part of a larger battery of tests not pertinent to the research questions of the present study, including tests of personality and motivation). Session 1 Participants completed a background questionnaire, which included questions about demographic characteristics, and ratings of video game experience and skill: How much experience do you have playing video games? (Scale: 1 none to 5 an extreme amount), and In general, how good would you say you are at video games, compared with others? (Scale: 1 dont ever play video games to 5 very good). Participants then completed tests to assess WMC, PS and Gf. The WMC tests were operation span and symmetry span.2 In operation span, participants are presented with equation-word pairs [e.g. IS (12/3) 3 6 DOG]. For each pair, the task is to indicate whether the equation was correct or incorrect, and to remember the word. After between 2 and 6 pairs, a recall prompt appears, and the task is to report the words in the order in which they appeared. In symmetry span, each trial consists of a matrix, with some cells lled, followed by an arrow. The task is to judge whether the pattern in the matrix is symmetrical along the vertical axis, and then to remember the direction of each arrow. After between 2 and 6 pairs, a recall prompt appears, and the task is to report the direction of the rst arrow, the second arrow, and so forth. For each task, the score is the number of items recalled in the correct serial order. The PS tests were letter comparison and pattern comparison (from Salthouse & Babcock, 1991). In letter comparison, stimuli are pairs of letters separated by a blank (e.g. XJK ___ XRK). Participants are to write S on the line if the pairs were the same or D if they are different. In pattern comparison, the task is the same, except that the stimuli are
1 The advertisement for the study indicated that participating would involve performing a computerized task with multiple components. However, there is no indication that this biased the sample towards males who enjoy playing videogames, as the percentage of males in the nal sample (29%) was very similar to the approximate percentage of males in the subject pool at Michigan State University (25%). 2 Complex span is not the only option for measuring WMC. In another type of task designed to engage the central executive, the participant attempts to generate a random sequence of items (e.g. digits). This task is frequently used in dual-task studies in which the participant attempts to perform this task and another simultaneously. However, from a psychometric perspective, random generation tasks tend to have poor reliability in comparison to complex span tasks (see Engle et al., 1999), making them a less than ideal option for the assessment of individual differences in WMC.

Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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Table 1. Parameters for synthetic work task in baseline and emergency conditions Baseline Task Math Auditory monitoring Visual monitoring Memory search 20 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 Rate Self-paced 10 seconds 50 seconds 10 seconds 20 30 30 30 Emergency 10 10 10 10 Rate Self-paced 5 seconds 25 seconds 5 seconds

Note: , points awarded for correct responses. , points deducted for incorrect responses. Rate corresponds to (a) Auditory monitoring: number of seconds between tones; (b) Visual monitoring: number of seconds required for needle to move across gauge and (c) Memory search: number of seconds between memory probes.

geometric patterns. In both tasks, the goal is to make as many comparisons as possible in 30 seconds, and the score is the number of correct responses minus the number of incorrect responses (the latter to correct for guessing). The Gf tests were matrix reasoning and letter sets. In matrix reasoning (Raven, 1962), each item consists of a 3 3 matrix. The cells contain patterns that change in a logical fashion across rows and down columns. The pattern in the bottom-right is always missing, and the task is to choose a pattern (from among eight alternatives) that is the logical t for the missing cell. In the version used for this study, there were 14 items, with a time limit of 7 minutes. In letter sets (Ekstrom, French, Harman, & Dermen, 1976), each item consists of ve sets of letters. Four of the letter sets follow the same rule, while one of the sets is an oddball that does not conform to the rule. The task is to identify the oddball. There were 14 items, with a time limit of 7 minutes. Session 2 Participants performed nine 5-minute blocks of SynWin (Version 1.2): rst a Practice block, then four Baseline blocks and then four Emergency blocks. As shown in Table 1, in terms of points awarded for correct answers, the math task was emphasized in the baseline blocks, whereas the memory, auditory and visual tasks were emphasized in the Emergency blocks. It can also be seen that the pace of the tasks (excluding arithmetic) increased in the Emergency blocks than in the Baseline blocks. That is, the inter-stimulus interval in the memory task and auditory task changed from 10 seconds to 5 seconds, and the pace of the needle in the visual monitoring task doubled, from 50 seconds to 25 seconds. Given that emergencies often happen with no warning, participants were at no point told that payoffs and pace would change moving from Block 4 to Block 5. Throughout each block, the total score was displayed in the centre of the screen, and thus participants could monitor their performance.

RESULTS Data preparation We discarded 17 participants (13% of the sample) because of a large number of missing values (mostly due to equipment failure or experimenter error), as well 5 participants (3.8% of the sample, all female) who had negative total SynWin scores, in either the baseline or Emergency condition, that were more than 3.5 SD units from the total sample mean. We
Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Appl. Cognit. Psychol. 24: 11491167 (2010) DOI: 10.1002/acp

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Table 2. Descriptive statistics for predictor variables Variable Operation span Symmetry span Letter comparison Pattern comparison Letter sets Matrix reasoning Videogame experience M 56.7 26.9 20.5 38.0 6.6 7.7 2.5 SD 13.0 7.4 4.6 6.7 2.1 2.6 1.0 Sk 0.51 0.98 0.25 0.02 0.12 0.88 0.55 Ku 0.03 0.74 1.22 0.53 0.45 0.96 0.11 dsex .09 .02 .00 .07 .29 .04 1.51 a .781 .802 .56 .62 .63 .71

Note: Reliability estimates are: (a) coefcient as from Unsworth, Schrock, Heitz, and Engle (2005)1 and Unsworth, Redick, Heitz, Broadway, and Engle (2009)2 for operation span and symmetry span, respectively; (b) coefcient as for letter sets and matrix reasoning and (c) coefcient as computed using scores on rst and second pages of letter comparison and pattern comparison. Positive dsex values indicate higher mean scores for males than for females.

Table 3. Correlation matrix Variable (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) Operation span Symmetry span Letter comparison Pattern comparison Letter sets Matrix reasoning Videogame experience 1 .46 .18 .22 .42 .30 .02 2 .13 .24 .28 .37 .07 3 4 5 6 7

.41 .24 .17 .06

.17 .23 .08

.21 .09

.06

Note: Correlations with an absolute magnitude greater than .19 are statistically signicant ( p < .05).

assume that the latter participants did not understand the instructions for the task or did not put forth reasonable effort. The nal sample consisted of 109 participants (70.6% female).3

Descriptive statistics and correlations Tables 2 and 3 display descriptive statistics and correlations for the predictor variables. As expected, the ability variables correlated positively with each other, with stronger correlations between the variables of each type. Reliability estimates were generally acceptable (as > .50), and the data for all variables were approximately normally distributed. VGE correlated near zero (jrj < .10) with all of the ability measures.
3 A preliminary report of data from this study, in which we describe correlations among the major variables, appears in a chapter by Oswald et al. (2007).

Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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Table 4. Descriptive statistics for SynWin scores in baseline and emergency conditions Variable Baseline Block 1 Block 2 Block 3 Block 4 Emergency Block 1 Block 2 Block 3 Block 4 M 447.1 611.8 564.8 629.9 2534.0 2979.7 2799.7 3011.9 SD 203.8 196.9 221.3 212.3 937.5 850.0 902.6 985.2 Sk 0.41 0.74 0.67 0.24 0.51 0.74 0.80 0.84 Ku 0.29 0.89 1.67 0.81 0.34 0.10 0.26 0.22 dsex .24 .37 .44 .43 .22 .34 .44 .27

Note: Coefcient as are .89 for Baseline blocks and .92 for Emergency blocks. Positive dsex values indicate higher mean scores for males than for females.

Table 5. Correlation matrix for SynWin scores Variable Baseline (1) Block (2) Block (3) Block (4) Block Emergency (5) Block (6) Block (7) Block (8) Block 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 .73 .68 .70 .54 .53 .42 .39 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

.69 .63 .46 .48 .45 .35

.58 .53 .47 .40 .38

.45 .42 .31 .24 .78 .68 .61 .81 .77

.85

Note: All correlations are statistically signicant ( p < .01).

Tables 4 and 5 display descriptive statistics and correlations for the SynWin scores. Correlations among scores were uniformly positive, but scores from each type of block correlated highly with each other (Baseline, avg. r .67; Emergency, avg. r .75), and more highly than with scores from the other type of block (avg. r .37), suggesting that there may have been a shift in factors underlying performance moving from the Baseline to Emergency blocks. VGE correlated moderately with the average score in the Baseline blocks (r .28, p < .01), and weakly with the average score in the Emergency blocks (r .16, ns). It can also be seen that there were sex differences favouring males in both the Baseline blocks (avg. dsex .37) and Emergency blocks (avg. dsex .32), and that there was a large difference between males and females in VGE (dsex 1.52), in the direction of higher levels of VGE in males than females. In the analyses presented next, we consider the possibility that sex differences in SynWin scores were accounted for by those in VGE. Structural equation modelling To reiterate, the rst goal of this study was to assess the relative contributions of ability and experience factors to SynWin performance. We used structural equation modelling (SEM) to address this goal. Two steps were involved.
Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Appl. Cognit. Psychol. 24: 11491167 (2010) DOI: 10.1002/acp

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Conrmatory factor analyses The rst step was to perform conrmatory factor analyses to establish the appropriateness of measurement models.4 For the predictor variables, we rst specied factors for WMC, Gf and PS. However, the solution was non-admissible because of a high degree of multicollinearity between WMC and Gf. Because the primary focus of this study was WMC, we dropped Gf from the measurement model, and the t of a two-factor model was excellent, x2(6) 4.96, CFI 1.00, NFI .95, RMSEA .00. For SynWin, we tested two models. In the rst model, scores from the four Baseline and four Emergency blocks loaded onto a single factor. Model t was poor: x2(20) 207.47, NFI .71, CFI .69, RMSEA .30. In the second model, there were correlated Baseline performance and Emergency performance factors. The t of this model was not impressive, x2(19) 52.00, NFI .95, CFI .92, RMSEA .13, but the observed correlations clearly showed patterns of convergent and discriminant validity, and improvement in t over the 1-factor model was dramatic, Dx2(1) 155.47, p < .01.5 Structural analyses The second step in the SEM was to test for effects of WMC and PS on SynWin performance, along with VGE. In our model, we specied Baseline performance as a predictor of Emergency performance to determine whether, in terms of inuences of the predictor constructs, there was anything unique about the Emergency condition. That is, would the predictors inuence Emergency performance above and beyond any inuences on Baseline performance? Results are illustrated in Figure 3. WMC had a positive effect on Baseline performance (.51, p < .01), but no incremental effect on Emergency performance (.06). There was also evidence for a positive, though weaker, effect of PS on Baseline performance (.28, p < .05, one-tailed), but there was no evidence for an incremental effect of PS on Emergency performance. It can also be seen that there was a positive effect of VGE on Baseline performance (.23, p < .05), but no incremental effect of this factor on Emergency performance (.04). Together, these results suggest that all three predictor constructs, but especially WMC, are important for multitasking, irrespective of task pace.6 Finally, there was a negative association between Sex and VGE (.56, p < .01), indicating higher levels of VGE in males than in females, but non-signicant effects of sex
We report the following t statistics: The x2 test indicates whether there was a signicant difference between the reproduced and observed covariance matrixes. Thus, nonsignicant x2 values reect a t of the model to the data. However, when moderate to large sample sizes are used, slight differences between reproduced and observed covariance matrices can result in signicant x2 values. The comparative t index (CFI) and normed t index (NFI) are less sensitive to sample size and reect improvement in the t of a model compared with a baseline model in which population covariances among observed variables are assumed to be zero. The root mean squared error of approximation (RMSEA) reects the average difference between the observed and reproduced covariances. CFI and NFI values of greater than .90, and RMSEA values less than .08, indicate good t (e.g. Kline, 2003). 5 Furthermore, when we entered the SynWin scores into an exploratory factor analysis (principal axis), two factors emerged, and were clearly interpretable as reecting Baseline and Emergency performance. 6 Although WMC and Gf were too highly correlated to include in the same model, it is worth noting that the WMC measures tended to correlate more highly with SynWin scores than did the Gf measures (avg. r .30 vs. .24, respectively). Furthermore, for each condition, we regressed the average SynWin score onto WMC and Gf composite variables (the average of z scores for each construct), and found that the contribution of WMC to Baseline Performance (Inc. R2 .106, F 15.26, p < .01) and Emergency Performance (Inc. R2 .057, F 7.54, p < .01), above and beyond Gf, was greater than the contribution of Gf to Baseline Performance (Inc. R2 .029, F 4.14, p < .05) and Emergency Performance (Inc. R2 .042, F 5.59, p < .05), above and beyond WMC (all dfs 1, 106). These results suggest that WMC is more fundamental than Gf in accounting for individual differences in multitasking. Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Appl. Cognit. Psychol. 24: 11491167 (2010) DOI: 10.1002/acp
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Figure 3. Structural equation model predicting performance in Baseline and Emergency conditions

on both Baseline performance and Emergency performance. Thus, sex differences in performance were almost entirely mediated through VGE. Collectively, the model accounted for 55% of the variance in Baseline performance, and 35% of the variance in Emergency performance. Model t was acceptable, x2(64) 99.35, NFI .95, CFI .89, RMSEA .07. Strategy analyses The second goal of this study was to investigate the role of strategy use in SynWin. To this end, we computed the 16 response probabilities (RPs) illustrated in Figure 2 separately for the Baseline and Emergency conditions. The 16 RPs for each individual were computed by counting the number of responses of each type (e.g. Math to Memory) across the four blocks in each condition, and then dividing the number for each type by the total number of responses executed by that particular individual. To reiterate, the within-task RPs reect a participants tendency to stay on the same task (e.g. Math to Math), and the between-task RPs reect a participants tendency to make a transition from one task to another (e.g. Math to Memory). We interpreted the between-task RPs, reecting transitions between tasks, as the primary indices of strategy use. Descriptive statistics Mean within-task and between-task RPs are displayed in Table 6. It is evident that the change in the payoff scheme moving from the Baseline condition to the Emergency condition produced changes in the types of strategies that participants used in SynWin. In the Baseline condition, the most common strategy across individuals involved alternating between Math and Memory, as the Math to Memory (.23) and Memory to Math (.20) RPs were higher than the others RPs. By contrast, in the Emergency condition, participants tended to anchor on Memory (.25), and to alternate between Memory and Visual (.17). More specically, there were statistically signicant differences ( p < .01) in the RPs across Baseline and Emergency conditions, and these differences were consistent with differences in the payoff schemes. Subjects were more likely to anchor on Math in Baseline
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Table 6. Descriptive statistics for response probabilities in Baseline and Emergency conditions Baseline M Math to Math to Memory to Auditory to Visual Memory to Math to Memory to Auditory to Visual Auditory to Math to Memory to Auditory to Visual Visual to Math to Memory to Auditory to Visual

Emergency Max .12 .33 .11 .15 .30 .27 .17 .27 .14 .14 .08 .08 .23 .22 .08 .02 M .00 .04 .01 .01 .03 .25 .10 .17 .01 .10 .01 .03 .01 .17 .04 .01 SD .00 .04 .01 .02 .03 .11 .02 .06 .02 .02 .01 .02 .02 .05 .02 .01 Min .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .01 .05 .00 .02 .00 .00 .00 .04 .01 .00 Max .03 .14 .05 .09 .12 .43 .14 .43 .10 .14 .06 .09 .12 .37 .09 .08 tB-E 7.98 36.72 11.75 5.57 36.01 17.64 11.51 22.40 14.34 15.81 3.70 10.25 6.70 20.91 11.79 4.58

SD .02 .06 .02 .02 .06 .06 .03 .04 .02 .02 .01 .01 .03 .03 .01 .00

Min .00 .06 .00 .00 .04 .00 .01 .04 .00 .02 .00 .00 .00 .01 .00 .00

.02 .23 .02 .03 .20 .08 .07 .09 .04 .06 .00 .02 .04 .08 .02 .00

p < .05;

p < .01.

than Emergency (t 7.98). They were also more likely to alternate between Math and Memory (ts 36.72 and 36.01), and Math and Auditory (ts 11.75 and 14.34), in Baseline than Emergency. On the other hand, they were more likely to anchor on Memory in Emergency (t 17.64), and were more likely to alternate between Memory and Visual (ts 22.40 and 20.91). It is also evident that there was substantial variability in the RPs. The standard deviations for the RPs were in most cases larger than the means, and for all RPs, there was a wide range of values (e.g. .04 to .33 for Memory to MathBaseline). The analyses reported next address the question of whether this translated into variability in SynWin scores. Total score T response probability correlations With a separate analysis for each condition, we correlated the RPs with total scores to identify a pattern of RPs associated with superior performance, that is, to identify the most effective strategy. We then correlated the RPs with WMC and PS composites (i.e. the average of the z scores for the two measures of each factor), and with VGE, to see whether a similar pattern of correlations would emerge, indicating that the factor predicted use of an effective strategy. Results are displayed in Table 7. The largest payoff in the Baseline condition was in Math, and not surprisingly, inspection of the correlations in Column 1 suggests that the strategy that led to high scores centred on Math. That is, overall scores on SynWin in the Baseline condition correlated positively with anchoring on Math (r .29), and with switching between (a) Math and Memory (r .50/r .51); and (b) Math and Visual (r .19/r .21). Anchoring on any of
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Table 7. Correlations of response probabilities with total score and predictor variables Total score B Math to Math to Memory to Auditory to Visual Memory to Math to Memory to Auditory to Visual Auditory to Math to Memory to Auditory to Visual Visual to Math to Memory to Auditory to Visual .29 .50 .20 .19 .51 .38 .55 .02 .29 .51 .44 .38 .21 .12 .27 .07 E .24 .34 .62 .55 .14 .42 .07 .33 .70 .24 .72 .57 .62 .39 .48 .20 B .29 .25 .01 .21 .27 .26 .41 .00 .12 .37 .33 .26 .19 .05 .16 .02 WMC E .18 .17 .02 .03 .27 .04 .19 .05 .04 .07 .28 .24 .06 .05 .09 .06 B .12 .19 .09 .23 .16 .31 .42 .09 .00 .31 .12 .23 .24 .06 .04 .09 PS E .09 .17 .09 .14 .17 .20 .28 .14 .07 .28 .10 .06 .14 .13 .00 .16 B .21 .31 .02 .04 .28 .27 .18 .11 .02 .15 .09 .21 .04 .21 .11 .05 VGE E .14 .19 .09 .00 .24 .03 .02 .12 .02 .01 .10 .14 .02 .11 .14 .02

Note: B, baseline; E, emergency; WMC, working memory capacity; PS, processing speed; VGE, videogame experience. Boldface correlations have an absolute magnitude greater than .190 and are statistically signicant ( p < .05).

the other tasks was associated with lower scores: Memory (r .38), Visual (r .07) and Auditory (r .44). The within-task RPs accounted for 36% of the variance in Baseline scores (F 14.63, p < .01), and the between-task RPs added 20.8% (F 4.08, p < .01). The payoff scheme in the Emergency condition emphasized Memory, and the correlations for this condition were predictably quite different than those for the Baseline condition. Specically, as can be seen in Columns 2 and 4, it appears that the most effective strategy was to anchor on Memory (r .42), and to alternate between Memory and Visual (r .33/ r .39). All other correlations (except one) were negative for the Emergency condition. The within-task RPs accounted for 55.3% of the variance in Emergency scores (F 32.11, p < .01), and the between-task RPs added 23.8% (F 9.61, p < .01). Rank-order correlations WMC, and to a slightly lesser extent PS, was predictive of a strategy that produced high scores in the Baseline condition, because the rank-order correlations between the values in Columns 1 and 3, and between the values in Columns 1 and 5, were .98 (p < .01) and .92 (p < .01), respectively. By contrast, both factors were weakly predictive of a successful strategy in the Emergency condition, as the rank-order correlations between the values in Columns 2 and 4, and between the values in Columns 2 and 6, were both non-signicant (rs .33 and .04, respectively). It appears that VGE also played some role in forming and using an effective strategy in the Baseline condition, as the rank-order correlation between the values in Column 1 and 7 was .65 (p < .01).
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DISCUSSION Two major goals were addressed in this study to increase understanding of multitasking performance and its predictors. The rst was to estimate relative contributions of two ability factorsWMC and PSand VGE to performance in a synthetic work task designed to simulate the multitasking demands of many jobs (e.g. time-dependent fastpaced tasks, each task with differential payoffs or priorities). We predicted that WMC would emerge as a signicant predictor of overall performance, whereas PS would have a stronger effect in the fast-paced condition than in the slow-paced condition. The second goal was to investigate individual differences in multitasking strategies, and their contribution to overall performance. Consistent with results of a study by Konig, Buhner, and Murling (2005), these results suggest that WMC is an important factor underlying the ability to multitask, whereas the contribution of PS is comparatively weak. Results further suggest that individual differences in strategy use contribute substantially to multitasking. Our approach to indexing strategy use involved computing response probabilities reecting the tendency for subjects to follow a response in one task (e.g. Math) with a response in the same task, or in one of the other tasks (e.g. Memory). Collectively, these response probabilities accounted for large proportions of the variance in overall scores, above and beyond the other predictor variables. Even more interesting, WMC predicted use of an effective strategy. This nding is consistent with the notion that individual differences in WMC, at least in part, reect an ability to nd and use effective strategies in cognitive tasks (Turley-Ames & Whiteld, 2003). We also observed a positive relationship between VGE and SynWin performance. While consistent with previous reports of benecial effects of VGE on basic cognitive processes such as selective attention and spatial discrimination (e.g. Green & Bavelier, 2003), it could be argued that the subjects in this study who reported a high level of VGE were simply more familiar with computers than those who reported little or no experience. However, this seems unlikely because correlations of VGE with scores in the computerized working memory tasks were statistically non-signicant. Of course, it could also be argued that our results reect the fact that people who are good at multitasking tend to play videogames. So while this nding of a positive relationship between VGE and multitasking needs to be investigated more directly by training individuals in videogames and then testing for transfer to multitasking, it is at least consistent with the possibility of a general, trainable skill for multitasking that is benecial above and beyond the effects of cognitive ability. It is also worth mentioning the evidence that we found for gender differences in multitasking. A frequent claim in the popular press is that women are better at multitasking than are men. Searching the Internet for gender and multitasking results in many blogs and articles suggesting that women are better multitaskers than men. However, despite an extensive literature search, we could not nd a single scientic report to support this view, and in our measure of multitasking, we found the opposite pattern: males outperformed females. This male advantage could be accounted for in terms of experience playing videogames. Training in videogame tasks may therefore be an effective way to reduce or eliminate sex differences in multitasking, when such differences are observed. Limitations and directions We acknowledge two major limitations of this initial effort to understand sources of individual differences in multitasking. First, while the paradigm that was used in this study
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clearly involves multitasking in the sense that requires a person to manage two or more tasks simultaneously, it does not simulate any particular work task. It could be that success in multitasking performance in environments, such as the workplace, to some extent depends on specialized knowledge, acquired through hundreds, or even thousands, of hours of practice in the specic context of interest. Thus, a goal of ongoing research is to validate SynWin against actual work performance. We are also interested in extending our ndings regarding strategy use both in SynWin and in work tasks. For example, would WMC or VGE predict use of an optimal strategy in an air trafc control task? And if so, what would be the nature of this inuence? For example, beyond improving basic cognitive processes such as selective attention and spatial discrimination, does playing videogames make people more likely to experiment with different ways of coordinating multiple tasks before settling on one approach? And if so, can interventions be designed to facilitate this sort of strategy discovery process? The second limitation of this study is that our approach to measuring strategy use was appropriate though admittedly indirect. It seems reasonable to us to assume that the transition probabilities reect what strategy subjects used, but use of eye-tracking methodology and verbal protocols would provide other converging and unique evidence for strategy use.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS This work was supported by a contract from the Navy Personnel, Research, Studies, & Technology (NPRST), Bureau of Naval Personnel, Millington, TN (Contract No. DAAD 19-02-D-0001). All views contained herein are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as representing the ofcial policies or endorsements of the Department of the Navy.

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Appl. Cognit. Psychol. 24: 11491167 (2010) DOI: 10.1002/acp