Multiple processing limitations underlie multitasking costs

Kelvin F.H. LUI*, Alan C.N. WONG

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Human multitasking is typically defined as the practice of performing more than one task at the same time (dual task) or rapidly alternating between multiple tasks (task switching). The majority of research in multitasking has been focusing on individual paradigms, with surprisingly little effort in understanding their relationships. We adopted an individual-difference approach to reveal the limitations underlying multitasking costs measured in different paradigms. Exploratory factor analyses revealed not a general multitasking factor but instead three different processing limitations associated with response selection, retrieval and maintenance of task information, and task-set reconfiguration. The three factors were only weakly correlated with and thus not reducible to common measures of processing speed, working memory capacity and fluid intelligence. Males and females excelled in different aspects of multitasking, demonstrating the benefit of using a multifaceted view of multitasking competency in group comparison. Findings of the current study help resolve conflicting results between studies using different paradigms, and form the basis of more comprehensive measurement tools and training protocols covering different aspects of multitasking limitations. The study will also help future integration of multitasking abilities into the theoretical framework of executive function.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1946-1964
Number of pages19
JournalPsychological Research
Issue number7
Early online date9 May 2019
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

This research was supported by the General Research Fund (14645416) from the Research Grants Council of Hong Kong to A.W.


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