According to a new study, multitasking is harder for men because they need to mobilise additional areas of their brain and use more energy than women when switching attention between tasks.
“Our findings suggest that women might find it easier than men to switch attention and their brains do not need to mobilise extra resources in doing so, as opposed to male brains,” said one of the researchers, Svetlana Kuptsova from National Research University Higher School of Economics in Moscow, Russia.
Such differences are typical of younger men and women aged 20 to 45, according to findings published in the journal Human Physiology.
Regardless of gender and age, task switching always involves activation in certain areas of the brain, more specifically, bilateral activation of the dorsolateral prefrontal areas, inferior parietal lobes and inferior occipital gyrus.
However, experiments conducted in this study demonstrated that in women, task switching appears to require less brain power compared to men, who showed greater activation in the dorsolateral prefrontal areas as well as the involvement of supplementary motor areas and insula, which was not observed in women.
The experiments involved 140 healthy volunteers, including 69 men and 71 women aged between 20 and 65.
The participants were asked to perform a variety of tasks. In one of the experiments using functional MRI, they were asked to perform a test that required switching attention between sorting objects according to shape (round or square) and number (one or two).
The use of functional MRI allowed the researchers not only to observe the participants’ behaviour, but also to see what was going on in the brain as the participants switched between tasks and detect differences in brain activation between men and women.
The researchers found that the gender differences in the extent of brain activation when switching between tasks only occurred in participants younger than those aged 45 to 50, while those aged 50 and older showed no gender differences either in brain activation or speed of task switching.