Strategic adaptation to task characteristics, incentives, and individual differences in dual-tasking

CP Janssen, Duncan Brumby
in PLoS One, Journal article


© 2015 Janssen, Brumby. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. We investigate how good people are at multitasking by comparing behavior to a prediction of the optimal strategy for dividing attention between two concurrent tasks. In our experiment, 24 participants had to interleave entering digits on a keyboard with controlling a randomly moving cursor with a joystick. The difficulty of the tracking task was systematically varied as a within-subjects factor. Participants were also exposed to different explicit reward functions that varied the relative importance of the tracking task relative to the typing task (betweensubjects). Results demonstrate that these changes in task characteristics and monetary incentives, together with individual differences in typing ability, influenced how participants choose to interleave tasks. This change in strategy then affected their performance on each task. A computational cognitive model was used to predict performance for a wide set of alternative strategies for how participants might have possibly interleaved tasks. This allowed for predictions of optimal performance to be derived, given the constraints placed on performance by the task and cognition. A comparison of human behavior with the predicted optimal strategy shows that participants behaved near optimally. Our findings have implications for the design and evaluation of technology for multitasking situations, as consideration should be given to the characteristics of the task, but also to how different users might use technology depending on their individual characteristics and their priorities. Copyright: