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Individual preferences for task coordination strategies in multitasking: exploring the link between preferred modes of processing and strategies of response organization

Brüning, Jovita; Reissland, Jessika; Manzey, Dietrich

Recent investigation of individual differences in multitasking revealed evidence for individual preferences for modes of task processing (serial vs. overlapping) in a task switching with preview (TSWP) paradigm and different strategies of response organization (blocking, switching, and response grouping) in a free concurrent dual-tasking (FCDT) paradigm. However, this research on individual differences at the levels of cognitive task processing and behavioral response organization has been pursued separately, thus far, by testing independent samples of participants. In the current study, we investigated whether these two levels of task coordination were linked intra-individually. As individuals preferring an overlapping task processing mode can generate time gains particularly at task switches, we predicted that they prefer a switching strategy of response organization. In contrast, individuals preferring a serial processing mode are expected to prefer a blocking strategy to reduce dual-task demands. These predictions were confirmed in an experiment based on n = 70 participants. Indeed, most serial processors preferred a blocking strategy, whereas overlapping processors predominantly preferred to switch between the tasks. This finding suggests a strong correspondence between individual preferences emerging in both aspects of task coordination, which might reflect a common basic difference in the preferred style of cognitive control (flexible vs. persistent). Moreover, in case the preferred modes of task processing and strategies of response organization did not correspond to each other, the overall multitasking efficiency was comparably low. Thus, the distinction between the preferences for both aspects of multitasking seems to be an important aspect of understanding multitasking performance and should be considered in future studies.
Published in: Psychological Research, 10.1007/s00426-020-01291-7, Springer