When it comes to higher cognitive functioning, this is a capability that all women have, to different degrees. If you think of everyone positioned on a spectrum, then some women will be at the higher end where they process multiple things in the split of a second and some might be at the lower end of the spectrum where they seem to think almost like men – i.e. a bit more simplistically.
Men unfortunately cannot multi task to save our lives! Let me be specific and then let me present an example to illustrate this. First, this applies to things that require higher cognitive functioning and parallel processing. For things that require lower cognitive processing, yes, we can roughly handle
To cope with multiple complex tasks, men do something that seems like multi tasking, to the untrained observers (aka women) but, obviously isn’t. We work like single-processor computers and we “time-splice”. This is where we do one activity, pause, then another activity, pause, and get back to the first activity, pause and so on. Some men are more skillful than others such that we can shorten the pauses so that it seems to be a seemless process of handling multiple activities. However, we are never truly multi tasking. We are just switching really fast.
A way to highlight or see this process at work is to disrupt it. When you attempt to disrupt a man in the middle of his process stream, the rest of the processes get derailed too and he becomes very lost.
Now an example to illustrate. After reading the scenario below, think about who comes to mind and more importantly, who does not.
Imagine a scene in which a person is sitting on a couch, feeding a new born, intently watching a program on TV, talking to a friend on the phone and, supervising a child in the background.
Now, who comes to mind? Ask yourself, “why did I think that?”
Next, consider who did not (for the most part) cross your mind and why.
Instinctively, most will say, of course it’s a woman or mother or someone female.
Well, of the 1000+ people that I’ve questioned since 2007, all but a handful of people have ventured that a male could do it!
At which point, I present what I think is a plausible effect if a male tried it:
– the baby would not get fed,
– he’d completely miss what was going on, on the TV,
– his friend at the other end of the phone would have by now got fed up with him and,
– the child might have run away from home, without him noticing it.
I should clarify that not all women would be able to handle all the 4 complex tasks efficiently but, they’d fare better than any male I have thus far observed.
Now, it has been pointed out (by many men) that in this scenario, the 1st task seems more of a perceived maternal role so I could be skewing the result towords women. However, even when the 1st activity is excluded, respondents still respond the same way!
The tasks that I’ve chosen are everyday activities. Realistically, I conceptualize that just about anyone could perform any of the tasks in isolation without much problem. I’ve described these tasks as complex as each require understanding, observation, knowledge and action. For example, in feeding the baby, only so much liquid formula or milk can be ingested by the baby before it needs to be burped. The volume is equivalent to the size of the baby’s clenched fist, roughly equal to the size of its stomach. Failure to observe how much liquid goes into the baby results in that liquid backing up and spilling onto the person feeding the baby. It’s complex when you consider it this way.
Is it possible to teach a male to multi task complex activities?
I remain hopeful though I have yet to see it. Also, research I have been doing so far seems to suggest otherwise. Some males will disguise this inability to multi task in the domestic setting as “women’s work”. Now, that’s just a coping skill.
Now, if women can multi-task and men cannot, then it would appear that women would always trump men. However, there are a lot of situations where the opposite seems to be more prevalent.
Multi-tasking seems to come with a unique disadvantage too. The women cannot stop multitasking.