Multitasking during Social Interactions in Adolescence and Early Adulthood

Mills, Kathryn L. and Dumontheil, Iroise and Speekenbrink, Maarten and Blakemore, Sarah-Jayne


Multitasking is part of the everyday lives of both adolescents and adults. We often multitask during social interactions by simultaneously keeping track of other non-social information. Here, we examined how keeping track of non-social information impacts the ability to navigate social interactions in adolescents and adults. Participants aged 11-17 and 22-30 years old were instructed to carry out two tasks, one social and one non-social, within each trial. The social task involved referential communication, requiring participants to use social cues to guide their decisions, which sometimes required taking a different perspective. The non-social task manipulated cognitive load by requiring participants to remember non-social information in the form of one two-digit number (low load) or three two-digit numbers (high load) presented before each social task stimulus. Participants showed performance deficits when under high cognitive load and when the social task involved taking a different perspective, and individual differences in both trait perspective taking and working memory capacity predicted performance. Overall, adolescents were less adept at multitasking than adults when under high cognitive load. These results suggest that multitasking during social interactions incurs performance deficits, and that adolescents are more sensitive than adults to the effects of cognitive load while multitasking.

Cite this paper:

  title = {Multitasking during {Social} {Interactions} in {Adolescence} and {Early} {Adulthood}},
  volume = {2},
  issn = {2054-5703},
  doi = {10.1098/rsos.150117},
  language = {English},
  number = {11},
  journal = {Royal Society Open Science},
  author = {Mills, Kathryn L. and Dumontheil, Iroise and Speekenbrink, Maarten and Blakemore, Sarah-Jayne},
  month = nov,
  year = {2015},
  keywords = {children, cognitive load, development, dual task, egocentric bias, egocentrism, mind, perspective, working memory},
  pages = {150117}