Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Deadlines in Space: Selective Effects of Coordinate Spatial Processing in Multitasking

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Deadlines in Space: Selective Effects of Coordinate Spatial Processing in Multitasking

Article excerpt

Published online: 5 June 2015

# Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2015

Abstract Many everyday activities require coordination and monitoring of multiple deadlines. One way to handle these temporal demands might be to represent future goals and deadlines as a pattern of spatial relations. We examined the hypothesis that spatial ability, in addition to executive functioning, contributes to individual differences in multitasking. In two studies, participants completed a multitasking session in which they monitored four digital clocks running at different rates. In Study 1, we found that individual differences in spatial ability and executive functions were independent predictors of multiple-task performance. In Study 2, we found that individual differences in specific spatial abilities were selectively related to multiple-task performance, as only coordinate spatial processing, but not categorical, predicted multi-tasking, even beyond executive functioning and numeracy. In both studies, males outperformed females in spatial ability and multitasking and in Study 2 these sex differences generalized to a simulation of everyday multitasking. Menstrual changes moderated the effects on multitasking, in that sex differences in coordinate spatial processing and multitasking were served males and females in the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, but not between males and females at menses. Overall, these findings suggest that multiple-task performance reflects independent contributions of spatial ability and executive functioning. Furthermore, our results support the distinction of categorical versus coordinate spatial processing, and suggest that these two basic relational processes are selectively affected by female sex hormones and differentially effective in transforming and handling temporal patterns as spatial relations in the context of multitasking.

Keywords Individual differences . Multitasking . Spatial ability . Sex differences . Coordinate processing

Multitasking implies dealing with multiple goal-directed tasks and is required in order to successfully navigate through numerous everyday activities. A core feature of multitasking is the requirement for temporal integration and monitoring of overlapping action sequences within limited time frames. How people allocate limited cognitive resources to multiple concurrent tasks is a topic of considerable theoretical and practical interest (e.g., Burgess, Veitch, de Lacy Costello & Shallice, 2000;Fuster,1993; Logie, Trawley & Law, 2011; Mäntylä, 2013; Meyer & Kieras, 1997; Navon & Gopher, 1979; Norman & Bobrow, 1975; Salvucci & Taatgen, 2008; Todorov, Del Missier & Mäntylä, 2014; Wickens, 2002).

Multitasking is a complex construct encompassing many different conditions with regard to time span, number of tasks to be completed and task difficulty, among others. However, a core aspect is represented by the ability to monitor concurrently multiple deadlines and to switch timely between tasks to meet the different deadlines (see also Mäntylä, 2013). This represents a fundamental aspect of multitasking, common to diverse situations observed in different contexts. As a consequence, the ability to represent and handle multiple concurrent deadlines seems to be a critical aspect of multitasking.

We have recently suggested (Mäntylä, 2013; Mäntylä & Todorov, 2013; Todorov et al., 2014) that multiple-task performance reflects individual differences in two fundamental aspects of cognitive functioning, namely, executive control and spatial ability. In this framework, and consistent with * earlier work, variability in prefrontally mediated executive functions is considered as the primary source of individual differences in multitasking (Logie et al., 2011; Meyer & Kieras, 1997; Salvucci & Taatgen, 2008;Shallice&Burgess, 1991; Watson & Strayer, 2010).

We also proposed a spatiotemporal hypothesis positing that multitasking performance reflects individual differences in spatial processing. …

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