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Multitasking

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Abstract

We examine how multitasking affects performance. We also examine whether individuals optimally choose their degree of multitasking or whether they perform better under an externally imposed schedule. Subjects in our experiment perform two different tasks according to one of three treatments: one where they perform the tasks sequentially, one where they are forced to multitask, and one where they can freely organize their work. Subjects who are forced to multitask perform significantly worse than those forced to work sequentially. Surprisingly, subjects who can freely organize their own schedule also perform significantly worse. These results suggest that scheduling is a significant determinant of productivity. Finally, our results do not support the stereotype that women are better at multitasking. Women suffer as much as men when forced to multitask and are actually less inclined to multitask when being free to choose. Copyright The Author(s) 2012

Suggested Citation

  • Thomas Buser & Noemi Peter, 2012. "Multitasking," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 15(4), pages 641-655, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:expeco:v:15:y:2012:i:4:p:641-655
    DOI: 10.1007/s10683-012-9318-8
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Kalenkoski, Charlene M. & Foster, Gigi, 2010. "The Multitasking of Household Production," IZA Discussion Papers 4845, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    2. Anja Schöttner, 2008. "Relational Contracts, Multitasking, and Job Design," Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 24(1), pages 138-162, May.
    3. David K. Levine & Drew Fudenberg, 2006. "A Dual-Self Model of Impulse Control," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(5), pages 1449-1476, December.
    4. Aghion, Philippe & Tirole, Jean, 1997. "Formal and Real Authority in Organizations," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 105(1), pages 1-29, February.
    5. Holmstrom, Bengt & Milgrom, Paul, 1991. "Multitask Principal-Agent Analyses: Incentive Contracts, Asset Ownership, and Job Design," Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 7(0), pages 24-52, Special I.
    6. George A. Akerlof, 1982. "Labor Contracts as Partial Gift Exchange," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 97(4), pages 543-569.
    7. Drago, Robert & Garvey, Gerald T, 1998. "Incentives for Helping on the Job: Theory and Evidence," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 16(1), pages 1-25, January.
    8. Lindbeck, Assar & Snower, Dennis J, 2000. "Multitask Learning and the Reorganization of Work: From Tayloristic to Holistic Organization," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 18(3), pages 353-376, July.
    9. Shiv, Baba & Fedorikhin, Alexander, 1999. " Heart and Mind in Conflict: The Interplay of Affect and Cognition in Consumer Decision Making," Journal of Consumer Research, Oxford University Press, vol. 26(3), pages 278-292, December.
    10. Michael Kosfeld & Armin Falk, 2006. "The Hidden Costs of Control," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(5), pages 1611-1630, December.
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    Cited by:

    1. Foster, Gigi & Kalenkoski, Charlene M., 2012. "Measuring the Relative Productivity of Multitasking to Sole-tasking in Household Production: New Experimental Evidence," IZA Discussion Papers 6763, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Multitasking; Productivity; Lab experiment; Gender; C91; J24; J16;

    JEL classification:

    • C91 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Individual Behavior
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • J16 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Gender; Non-labor Discrimination

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