Gender Differences in Multitasking: Texting During Lectures

Today, the communication technology has been growing widely to the extent that we can communicate with each other anytime and anywhere. As long as there is Wi-Fi or network coverage, our smartphones, tablets or computers can be used as a communication tool or a gadgets for us to receive new information in the world. Consequently, this function is so easily accessed by all, we are able to receive text messages, phone calls, emails and social network notifications throughout the whole day. However, this can be either a blessing or a curse. As we are exposed to all these information and entertainments, these can be a distraction in our daily tasks. To be specific, students in college are able to access to all these functions most of the time, it has pushed students to multitask more often in their daily lives. These might interfere with their studies as multitasking involves in switching tasks from one and another as well as the attention (Judd, 2013).

In a study done by Wilkes University, 95% of the students bring their phones to college every day and 91% of the students admitted to using their cellphones during lectures (Harris, 2013). This has shown that most students tend to multitask in class as they listen to the lecture and use their phone at the same time for either text messaging, social networking or any other purposes. However, research on multitasking have proven that the human has no ability to perform more than one overlapping task at the same time due to the interference occurs in human information processing system (Levy & Paschler, 2001; Wood et al., 2012). In other words, students can hardly concentrate in class if they are using their phone at the same moment. This explanation is consistent to the findings of Bowman, Levine, Waite & Gendron (2010) that students who instant message while reading take longer time to finish the task.

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For generations, the stereotype of women are better at multitasking is debated across the world. Although scientist in University of Pennsylvania has supported this statement by discovering females’ brains are connected from left to right, while men has more intense movement in certain part of the brain (Spencer, 2013), many research done on multitasking has rejected the idea. Buser and Peter (2011) reported that women suffer as much as men while multitasking and have no significant differences in productivity of tasks. Not only that, even Conner, Laws, O’Connor and Stoet (2013) found that women outperform men in multitasking, they pointed out that their results cannot be generalized as the empirical studies on gender differences in multitasking is insufficient.

Theoretical Framework

Living in this world where we are overwhelmed by all perceptual information, our human information processing system can detect, recognize and identify chunks of stimuli at the same time (Hedge, 2013). As so, in this context, attention has given the model a function to either enhance or inhibit information, in other words, our attention chooses which certain information for further processing or ignore (McClelland, 2007). However, when two information are presented and are asked to process at the same time, the ability to attend both fully will be impaired as there are insufficient capacities in the information processing system; this attempt of trying to focus on multiple stimuli at one time is also known as divided attention (McClelland, 2007). One of the example of divided attention is multitasking, which can be defined as performing more than one task simultaneously or switching from one task to another back and forth (APA, 2006).

In the human mind, multitasking is managed by a process called executive control; and to decide which cognitive processes and when it is performed, the executive control system will go through two stages – the goal shifting (decision of what to do) and role activation (action of switching task) (Meyer, Evans & Rubinstein, 2001). Hence, people tend to repeatedly switch between tasks to achieve two things at a time without constant awareness; although it might seems productive and efficient, it is explained that multitasking leads to more mistakes and more time consumed as there will be brief mental blocks during switching of tasks (Meyer, Evans & Rubinstein, 2001).

Past Research

Many past research have shown that multitasking in class can lead to poor academic performance. Junco (2012) conducted a research examining the relationship between in-class multitasking and academic performance, by giving out survey forms to a large number of students (N = 1,839) measuring their technology usage in class and internet skill to be compared to their grade point average (GPA). He then reported that constant multitasking in class (which include surfing social networking website, chatting and text messaging) has a significant negative correlation with students’ over semester GPA (Junco, 2012). Additionally, Carrier, Cheevar, Lim and Rosen (2011) did an experimental study on the frequency of text messaging interruption during a lecture has found that students in High texting group (16 messages or more) scored significantly lower than the Moderate texting group (8 to 15 messages) and No or Low texting group (0 to 7 messages) in the quiz after a 30 minute videotaped lecture.

Through the cross-cultural analysis of surveys results on mobile phone etiquette and multitasking in class, it showed that Americans and Chinese students both believe using cellphone in class will not interfere their learning but Americans students find it more appropriate to text in class than the Chinese; additionally, no gender significant difference is found (Rosenfeld, 2014). Many other research have furthered this study by doing an experimental study on multitasking in class with the awareness of cellphone distraction. Even many students did not believe that using their smartphones in class is a distraction from their learning, the scores of the short quiz given after the same lecture between students who use cellphones in class and students who listen to lecture without cellphones have a significant difference where students who anticipate in communication technology have a lower score (Elder, 2013). This result is consistent to the findings of a mixed experimental study on the relationship between self-regulation, attention and cognition learning ability in classroom learning, which reported that college students who constantly self-regulate tend to have a better cognition learning by sustaining their attention during lecture as they text less (Klausner, Wei & Wang, 2012).

Besides, during an accounting principle lecture in Columbus State University, the half of 62 students who are allowed to multitask in class in the form of communicating with each other through texting did worse in the exam than the other half of students who are not allowed to use their cellphones during lecture (Ellis, Daniels & Jauregui, 2010). Although in this study they did a comparison between male and female, they found that gender has no significant impact on learning ability without taking account of whether they multitask or not (Ellis, Daniels & Jauregui, 2010). This research is similar to a recent experimental study which both groups of psychology students, who are asked to text and to switch off their phones during a short 20-minute lecture, are then given a short quiz to test their learning ability; the researchers concluded that texting in class is a strong distraction during lecture like other past research, but no gender comparison is done (Dietz & Henrich, 2014). However, in the research of gender difference on multitasking have shown that women suffer as much as men in divided attention while completing multiple task at the same time and choose to avoid multitasking upon free will (Buser &Peter, 2011; Strayer, Ward & Watson, 2013).

Description of Study

Although many research has done on student multitasking capabilities in class (Carrier, Cheever, Lim &Rosen, 2011; Ellis, Daniels & Jauregui, 2010; Gingerich & Lineweaver, 2013) and gender differences in multitasking (Buser & Peter, 2011; Conner, Laws, O’Connor & Stoet, 2013), there are limited research that compared male and female students’ academic performance if they multitask in class. In this study, we will be examining the gender difference in multitasking during a lecture. The aim of this experimental study is to see whether male or female students can multitask better while learning.

All participants recruited for the study will be separated to different groups based on gender and will undergo one experiment each, either texting during lecture or no texting during lecture. As all participants will have to attend a half an hour English Literature class, the no texting group will not be allowed to access to their cellphone. However, for the texting group, each participant will receive a text message every 5 minutes and is required to reply. At the end of the experiments, all four groups of participants will be given a quiz to test their understanding of the lecture.

Based on Carpenter et al. (2012) and Ellis, Daniels and Jauregui (2010), we hypothesize that texting in class will lead to a poorer performance in the quiz. Then, based on Buser and Peter (2011) and Strayer, Ward and Watson (2013) on gender differences in multitasking, we hypothesize that there will be no differences in both gender on performance in quiz for texting during lecture.



The independent variable of this study is gender differences in multitasking, with two levels, male and female; the dependent variable is quiz scores. This is a between subject design as the participants will be separated to different groups and only go through one experiment either texting during lecture or no texting during lecture.


Approximately 80 male participants and 80 female participants, from all races, will be recruited from different private colleges in Penang for the experiment. This is because all the past research used participants less than this amount. A total of 62 participants of both gender are tested on the study by Ellis, Daniels and Jauregui (2010); and a total of 67 participants are used in the study of Gingerich and Lineweaver (2013). The age of the participants will be 18 to 25 (M = 21.25), which most people in this age attend college. The participants are recruited through purposive sampling where they have to meet the 2 following criteria, enrolling in an undergraduate program and is able to understand English perfectly. The students will be participating the experiment voluntarily.


A half an hour lecture of English Literature Studies will be given to all participants. As the participants recruited are from variety of courses, this is to ensure that the students have not been to the lecture before and have no prior knowledge in it. At the end of the experiment, a 20 multiple choice question quiz based on the lecture will be given to the participants to answer.

As for the treatment group, a total of 6 text messages will be send to the participants which consists of basic conversation questions, such as “What is your hobby?”


This experimental study will be done in a big lecturer hall with a clear projector screen and perfect sound system. Before the experiment is conducted, all the participants will be asked to sign the inform consent form. After that, they will be divided into four groups, the male control group, the female control group, the male texting group and the female texting group. The students will be told whether or not they are receiving text messages.

For all four groups of experiment (the female control group, the male control group, the female texting group and the male texting group), the lecturer and the English Literature lectures given will be same. However, on the treatment group for both genders, each participant will receive a text message every 5 minutes and they are required to reply the message before the next message comes. After the 30 minutes lecture is finished, all participants will be asked to take a short multiple choice questions quiz based on the class conducted. Once the students have finished the quiz, they are allowed to leave.

Statistical Analysis

As this experimental study only consist of one independent variable and one dependent variable, the data will be analyzed using SPSS with independent one-way ANOVA; and to see if there is significant differences between two means of independent groups.

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