The role of working memory components and planning in multitasking situations
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Multitasking refers to situations where a person undertakes multiple tasks in a limited time period by interleaving tasks. Past research has focused on the role of working memory (WM) in multitasking in terms of individual capacity, planning and the involvement of WM components. This study, using an interruption paradigm, was designed to investigate whether there is a role for the phonological loop or visuo-spatial components of WM in multitasking. We also considered whether there is evidence of planning in multitasking situations. The main task involved memorising a list of errands, two with specified collection times, and manoeuvring in a virtual environment to complete the errands within a limited time period. Performance was measured in terms of errands completed, efficiency of completion and items collected at specified times. The interruption was an unexpected task designed to load onto either the phonological loop or visuo-spatial working memory and expected to disrupt rehearsal of the primary task. The experimental hypotheses were that performance on the main task would be disrupted in the interruption condition compared to the control condition. Furthermore, the interruption tasks would have a differential disruptive effect giving an indication of the WM components primarily involved in the main task. Analysis of the results indicated a statistically significant difference in performance between the control and interruption condition. However, in contrast to the hypothesis, performance was higher in the interruption condition. There was no statistically significant difference in performance in the verbal interruption condition in comparison to the visual condition. Therefore, the findings did not support the experimental hypotheses. Finally, the order in which individuals collected errands was analysed for evidence of planning. When discussing the results we considered what the findings reveal about the role of WM components in multitasking. Also considered are limitations of the study and characteristics of the interruption paradigm which may have influenced the results.