Healthy Adult Ageing: Multitasking Abilities and the Impact of Interruptions
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The ability to multitask plays a significant role within everyday life. This experiment investigated whether multitasking abilities are impaired in healthy adult ageing. Neuropsychological literature has shown that patients with frontal lobe damage are impaired in their ability to multitask on tests designed to assess cognitive functions used in real-life multitasking situations. Age-related reductions in brain volume are most pronounced in the frontal lobes. Therefore, it’s assumed that older adults multitasking abilities may also be impaired. This experiment also investigated the effects of interruptions on multitasking performance, as they are characteristic of multitasking situations. The current study used an adapted version of the computer simulated “cooking breakfast” task (Craik & Bialystok, 2006). Both younger and older participants performed a “paper” version of the task requiring participants to cook five foods, so that all of the foods were finished cooking at the same time. Participants had to set the table whilst cooking the foods, requiring participants to switch between the two tasks. Both younger and older adults performed two multitasking tests, one with an interruption and one without. Both tasks consisted of two conditions differing in complexity. Healthy adult ageing shows some deficits on multitasking performance, however both younger and older adults multitasking abilities are resistant to the impact of an interruption. Although healthy adult ageing shows some declines in multitasking ability, older adults may use strategies acquired across the lifespan in order to compensate for an age-related decline in executive function. The impact of interruptions on multitasking abilities appears to depend on the interaction of factors associated with the interruption and the main task.