Examination of the effects of multitasking

Project No. IAG 490013


completed 12/2010


Multitasking is a common phenomenon in the modern world of work. It may however impact negatively upon performance and health. The effects of multitasking are to be studied in closer detail on three levels, namely performance, subjective response and physiological parameters. At the same time, possible differences between the sexes and ages are to be examined.


An experiment involving two typical everyday scenarios was conducted. In it, the test subjects were required to perform tasks both whilst performing other tasks simultaneously, and without having to do so. During the "office task", the test subject was presented with a word on a VDU a total of 70 times. Each time, the person was required to indicate by pressing a button whether the word was spelt incorrectly. In a second block, a parallel task was added, comprising listening to a spoken text and subsequently answering questions concerning it. During the "lane-change task", the test subject performed a simulated driving task in which they were required to change lanes regularly, and at the same time to complete the following tasks: to enter a telephone number on a mobile telephone; to remove a paper tissue from a packet; to withdraw a specific sum of money from a wallet; and to read route directions out loud.


Evaluation of the data shows that performance deteriorates and the subjective stress increases when persons are required to conduct more than one task at a time. A significant increase in the pulse was observed during the lane-changing task. No differences were noted between the sexes, and virtually no differences between the ages. The results are currently being published. The study of the Institute of Work and Health of the German Social Accident Insurance (IAG) illustrates the importance of the subject of "multitasking", not least for occupational safety and health. Multitasking may constitute mental strain and lead to accidents. Work should therefore be organized in a manner which reduces multitasking.

Last Update:

30 Oct 2012


Research institution(s):
  • Institut für Arbeit und Gesundheit der Deutschen Gesetzlichen Unfallversicherung (IAG)

-cross sectoral-

Type of hazard:

Arbeitsbedingte Gesundheitsgefahren, Psychische Fehlbelastungen


Psychische Beanspruchung/Belastung, Geschlechtsspezifische Risiken, Informationsverarbeitung

Description, key words:

The effects of multitasking are to be studied: - Sex differences - Age differences