The computer program decided how often the

The Value of Multi-tasking and Reaction Time in LifeAlania S. Appleton

Touro College


Multi-tasking actually sounds like a good idea. You’re working on numerous jobs at the same time, completing the task at a faster rate, or so you would think. Multi-tasking isn’t really as efficient and effective as we would believe. Research has shown that our brains are just not equipped to multi-task. To examine how multi-tasking impacts our task performance, a study was conducted using a custom computer program that tracked and calculate the participant reaction times during the task repeat/task-switch trial. A total of 13 subjects were selected, the computer program decided how often the participant would switch between a repeated task, and a new task. The experimental environment featured three conditions: letter task, number task, and letter & number task. Participants used the B and N key in response to letters that was shown it was either a consonant or vowel, and in the number task B and N key were used in response to whether a number was odd/even. The results show that when it’s just one single task the reaction time response is faster. But when new a task is added the reaction time response is slower.

The Value of Multi-tasking and Reaction Time in LifeMany grew up with the understanding that performing multiple tasks was key to enhancing productivity. The habit of multi-tasking has become an essential key component for how people function on day-to-day bases. This habit is attributed to the explosive growth and exposure of the Internet, along with the constant stream of information it brings. Is it a positive attribution to boosting the amount of thing we can get done in a day, or is it a risky habit that can become more harmful than good.

In certain occupations, people will turn to multitasking instead of completing each task one at a time, compacting numerous tasks into the day. Most people don’t even notice that multi-tasking has become second nature in society. For instance reading the newspaper in the morning while drinking your morning cup of Joe is multitasking. Being able to wash dishes while talking on the phone, reviewing your kid’s homework while making dinner. All of theses are examples of ways we multi-task in our day-to-day life.

As humans we never paid attention to how we are able to complete these minuscule tasks without second thought. The current experiment is going to measure the reaction time for task switching using a laboratory procedure. The concept of a task-set is the ability to shift from one task to another when triggered by external cue CITATION Mon03 l 1033 (Monsell, 2003). This ability enables you to quickly and productively adjust to various circumstances. For example when you are working out in the gym you can move from lifting weight to doing squats with ease because you already have the directives stored within your memory. Task-set reconfiguration assumes that once a task-set is carry out, it remains in a activate state until the point that it must be changed, when another task is introduced CITATION Mon03 l 1033 (Monsell, 2003). An example of task-set reconfiguration is continually doing squats and now switching to lifting weights. The concept of switch-cost is the interval processing time switching from one task to the next simultaneously when a new cue is present CITATION Mon03 l 1033 (Monsell, 2003). An example of switch cost is the time it would take to move from doing squats to lifting weights or doing them simultaneously. Performances on theses tasks are effect when you are required to switch from one task to another. This disruption affects the accuracy and execution time on a given new task.

In this experiment, participants responded using the B and N keys, which corresponded to either a consonant, or vowel, or an odd, even number. The guidelines are all shown on the screen and require some reading. The prediction for this experiment is that repeated tasks are more likely going to have a faster reaction time than when task are switched. Some tasks that may require more concentration are more difficult to switch between. Research demonstrates that the actual act of switching between two things really take longer mentally to process. The reasoning behind this is the brain doles out rules to how we do things, and switch between different task means shutting down one set of rules and opening another.



Participants in this study included 13 adults’ ages ranging from 21-60. There were 2 male participants, and 11 female participants. A wide variety of ethnic background was represented; participants were all selected from Touro College Experimental Psychology course. Dr. DiMatteo did the proctoring. One female participant data was excluded from the study, due to an inaccuracy in data that was retrieved.


The experiment was conducted in Touro’s computer lab. The experiment was conducted on Dell PCs, using a standard keyboard, and mouse. The program used to administer and control the experiment data was


In this experiment, participants used the B and N key to correspond to letters being displayed in the consonant/vowel task. B and N key was also used to correspond to numbers in the odd/even task. The participants are asked to login into, once participants are on the website they are instructed to scroll down to the “click here run demo link.” A red box will appear with the “click to start” in the center, once the participants click the “click to start” screen another instructional page will appear. On the following page it explains the instructing for the upcoming task. Participants responded with button pressed to letters and number. Participants will only need to use two keys B and N. Participant will always see a letter/number combination (i.e. R6).

If the participants viewed the letter/number combination at the top of the screen, participants need to respond to the letter. If the letter/number combination appeared at the bottom of the screen, participants responded to the number. Participant pressed the space bar to continue to the next screen. The next screen showed a four-quadrant box with key guides for the task.

Letter task involved consonant/vowels (consonant G, K, M, R) represented by pressing (B-key) and (vowels A, E, I, U) represented by pressing (N-key). Number task involved odd/even (odd 3, 5, 7, 9) represented by pressing (B-key) and (even 2, 4, 6, 8) represented by pressing (N-key). If letter/number combination appears in top quadrants, participants were asked to respond to the letter. If letter/number combination appeared in the bottom quadrants, participants responded to the number. An example is given with the G6 in the upper top quadrant, in this case participants are asked to respond to the G and ignore the 6.

The G is a consonant, so the B key is pressed, and in the case of the example G4 appeared in the bottom quadrant the participant responded to the 4 (number) and ignored the G. The 4 is even, so participants pressed the N key. On the final screen before the experiment begins participants will see a little words of encouragement on keeping their response speed quick, and trying not to make mistakes. Once participant are ready to start a red box appears at the bottom of the screen instructing participants to press Q to start, or use up and down arrows to go back to previous page.

Round one of the experiment was just the letter task; a key guide appeared before the participant pressed the space bar to continue. Round two of the experiment was just the number task; a key guide appeared before the participant pressed the space bar to continue. Round three of the experiment was a round of letters and numbers task; a key guide appeared before the participant pressed the space bar to continue. The last page of the program experiment will be the results. The program tracked the participant’s reaction time. The experiment was within subject design were the independent variables were task sequence with two levels; task repeat vs. task-switch. The dependent variable was the reaction time.


The statistical tested used was a paired samples t-test. As predicted, RTs (reaction time) were faster for task repeat (1255ms) than task switching (1579ms), t(12) =4.04, p<.05. There was a significant difference between the task repeat and task switching. Figure 1 shows that participants had a faster reaction time when the letter/number combination stayed in either the upper or lower quadrant. Once the program began to switch between the upper and lower quadrant the reaction time started to slow down drastically.

Figure 1


The results of the experiment shows that it takes more time to get tasks completed if you switch between them than if you do them one at a time. You also make more errors when you switch between tasks. When the tasks becomes more complex the time and error increases. Task-set reconfiguration a sort of a mental ‘gear changing’ must happen before the appropriate task can proceed CITATION Mon03 l 1033 (Monsell, 2003). Changing from the rules for a previous task to rules for a new task will add to the switch cost, and error, and inconsistency. Task-switching research gives a way to study the interaction between objective and subjective adaptability. Another study conducted found that participants lost significant amounts of time as they switched between multiple tasks and lost even more time as the task became increasingly complex CITATION Rub01 l 1033 (Rubinstein, Meyer, & Evans, 2001). In today’s busy world, multi-tasking is all too normal. Juggling numerous tasks and responsibilities might seem like the best option at the time, however every time you focus on a new task your brain has to separate from the old task and establish the new task. Many research suggest focusing on one task at a time in order to get the job done quickly and correctly.


BIBLIOGRAPHY Monsell. (2003). Task switching. TRENDS in Cognitive Sciences, 7, 134-140.

Rubinstein, J. S., Meyer, D. E., ; Evans, J. E. (2001). Executive Control of Cognitive Processes in Task Switching. American Psychological Association, Inc.,, 763-797.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *