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The House Dad Chronicles: Are Women REALLY Better At Multi-Tasking Than Men?

04/09/2012 11:15 | Updated 22 May 2015

Are women better at multi-tasking than men?

I was contemplating this age-old question the other morning while simultaneously making poached eggs on toast for my three kids' breakfast, changing the toilet rolls in the loo, tracking down a missing book for my son's schoolbag and sweeping away a cobweb from the corner of the kitchen with the feather duster I've got surgically inserted into my backside.

Then I put a wash on, before emptying my youngest's pockets of variously-sized pebbles and stones, brushed said youngest's teeth, emptied and then re-loaded the dishwasher before marinating some chicken (in soy sauce, rice wine, garlic and ginger, since you ask) for that evening's tea.

Then I walked the two youngest to school, stopped by the local shop for a loaf and some milk, and finally collapsed in the kitchen, but not before making a cup of tea and sweeping the breakfast crumbs from the floor.

Oh I know what you mums – both working and stay-at-home – are thinking: 'Welcome to my world, matey' but isn't this proof enough that us males of the species can more than hold our own when it comes to that female-only myth of multi-tasking?

If more proof were needed, I have many friends who can drink beer, watch football and talk about the price of petrol – all at the same time.

The only reason such men don't multi-task on the domestic front is because, well, they don't have to. And why? Because you wives, girlfriends and mothers won't let them.

Before I was made redundant and reluctantly become a full-time stay-at-home-dad two years ago, I TRIED (honestly) to get involved with the domestic chores, but everything I did wasn't good enough for my wife.

She had her way of doing things and I had mine. But mine weren't up to her standards, so she'd end up re-doing what I'd spent ages perfecting, so in the end, I just gave up.

If she wanted to re-cut the broccoli to a certain Euro regulation specification, then so be it.

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If she wanted to iron sheet, pillowcases, pyjamas – and even our children's pants – that was up to her.

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I tried all this for a while and decided it was pointless – because she'd re-do everything I'd done.

But now our roles have been reversed and I have my own set way of doing things – and woe betide her if tries to correct it.

The result of this is that I am very much the domestic multi-tasker whereas my wife has settled into a single-tasking routine of one-thing-at-a-time.

But according to boffins, I must be a freak of nature.

Scientists in Hertfordshire decided to test the commonly held 'truth' that women can cradle a baby with one hand while whisking up an egg-based banquet with the other.

They found that when women and men work on a number of simple tasks - such as searching for a key or doing easy maths problems - at the same time, the women significantly outperformed the men.

They believe these results show that females are better able to reflect upon a problem, while continuing to juggle their other commitments, than men.

Professor Keith Laws, a psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire, who led the research, said: "We have all heard stories that either men can't multitask or that women are exceptionally good at multitasking.

"But there didn't appear to be any empirical evidence for this. It was all based upon folklore and hearsay when I looked through the scientific literature."

So they decided to test it, you know, in a lab.

Prof Laws gave 50 male and 50 female students eight minutes to perform three tasks at the same time: carrying out simple maths problems, finding restaurants on a map and sketching a strategy for how they would search for a lost key in an imaginary field.

As they performed the tasks, the volunteers also received a phone call that they could either chose to answer or not.

If they did answer, they were given an additional general knowledge test while they continued to carry out their other activities.

While women were able to perform well in all four activities at once, men performed, on average, worse when it came to planning to search for the key.

Professor Laws said: "Men are supposed to have better spatial awareness than women, so they should have outperformed the women on the map task and the key task.

"But of all the tasks we gave, the key searching task also requires planning and some kind of strategy.

"Men tended to start their search in a less logical place such as the centre of the field and they would not cover the whole area when they were outlining their search. women tended to enter in one corner and search in concentric circles or lines.

"It shows that women are better at being able to stand back and reflect for a moment while they are juggling other things."

Mmm, let's agree to disagree, shall we?

What do you think? Are women better multi-taskers than men?

Or do you think whoever has primary responsibility for the domestic chores is a better juggler?

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