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Influence of Dual Task on Memory Recall Performance

Influence of Dual Task on Memory Recall Performance

The ability to multi-task proves to be a necessary component of everyday life when considering the multiple roles that are required to perform efficiently in today’s society. With many individuals routinely engaging themselves in tasks that demands attention, it becomes circumspect for individuals to employ various strategies to achieve reliable results. When considering the large amounts of stimuli that are being processed during multi-tasking, having a higher ability to multi-task could prove advantageous. The concern is that these individuals may be limited initially in overall ability to multi-task. The purpose of this experiment is to determine if dual-tasking affects memory performance. Male and female college students in a Psychology class at the University of Texas at Arlington (N=19) performed in an experiment that required them to memorize a list of words while in two conditions. The first condition (control) consisted of no task performance when presented with words. The second condition (experimental) consisted of performing sudoko while being presented with words. An effect was observed in memory performance for participants between the two conditions. In addition deficits in performance were observed for participants that were placed in the dual task group when compared to the control group.

Reading a cookbook while preparing a meal, driving your vehicle while texting, trying to study while listening to the radio–multitasking is an ability that many try to perform. However, the ability to multitask is often difficult and frequently impossible. Considering that many tasks can go unfinished, this can become quite frustrating when an individual attempts to do two things at once. The need for studies examining the influences on multi-tasking behavior is necessary, if there is to be understanding to the underlying factors that are involved. When considering previous research many variables have been investigated to determine possible factors of influence.

Over the years research involving multi-tasking has proposed many ideas as to the predictors of performance in this area. Konig, Buhner, & Murling (2005), suggested that working memory, fluid intelligence, and attention are important predictors of multitasking performance. Although the previous research has investigated polychronicity and extraversion influences, no relation was noticed. Further, Konig et al. reported that out of the assumed predictors studied, “working memory yielded the highest correlation”. Additionally other studies (Buhner, Konig, & Krumm) have implicated that the speed and error found in multitasking could also be attributed to aspects of working memory. In their experiment the researchers stated to have implemented “a newly developed and well elaborated multidimensional model of working memory”. The dimensions noted in the experiment were, storage in the context of processing, coordination, and supervision. Buhner et al. also incorporate the constructs of attention and reasoning into their model of working memory for the purpose of identifying other possible influences. They state “if attention and reasoning are ignored when analyzing the predictive power of working memory, then the model is underspecified” (pg 256).

Considering that many occupations require the ability to perform multiple tasks quickly and simultaneously, it is no surprise that many employers have become more critical of potential candidates multitasking skills when hiring employees. Individual needs not only the ability of speed in multitasking, but accuracy becomes an additional aspect that employers look for. Following this reasoning, Buhner et al. stated that “the goal for their study was to explore how individual differences in these two aspects of multitasking performance-speed and error-can be predicted by other constructs, in particular working memory dimensions”. Their results indicated that the constructs and dimensions studied in their model proved to be determinants in the predicting of multitasking speed and errors. If found to be valid, these results could lead to more effective strategies that would increase production and efficiency in the workplace.

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Acknowledging that cognitive constructs and abilities required for efficient multitasking performance are not yet conclusive, the above mentioned research experiments have at least increased our knowledge to some of the possible variables involved in multitasking, although no conclusive outcome has yet been proposed. The concern with many of these theories is that working memory has been proposed to have limited capacity (Miller, 1956). Miller’s research has determined that the capacity of short term memory is limited to plus or minus seven bits of information. When considering the large amounts of stimuli that are being processed during multi-tasking, this could lead to the conclusions that results of individuals tested should perform quite similar. The problem lies in that this hardly proves to be the case. Stressing the limitations within current research a more thorough approach is then needed that consistently predicts the significance of possible influences involved. Utilizing and expanding on previous ideas this research proposes that working memory can play a part in task efficiency and if deficits occur in working memory during multitasking, then results could reflect in real world applications considering multitasking plays a large role in many occupations and everyday life tasks. Interpreting the previous research discussed, the current research hypothesizes the following:

Ho: It is expected that word recall on memory performance test will not be affected by dual tasking.

H1: It is expected that word recall on memory performance test will be affected by dual tasking.



The study participants included 20 undergraduate students from a cognitive psychology course at the University of Texas at Arlington. Participants consisted of 2 male and 18 female students ranging in age from 20 to 34 (M = 24.9). Participants were randomly assigned to either a single task (n = 10) or dual task condition (n = 10). The experimenters made every effort to maintain the highest level of ethical standards set forth by UTA’s Institutional Review Board (IRB).


The current study utilized a self-survey consisting of questions pertaining to demographic information, including age and gender. Microsoft Office Power Point Viewer 2007 was used for the audio recording and audio presentation of words. Words used during the presentation were randomly chosen from the Kent-Rosanoff Word-Association List (Kent & Rosnaoff, 1910). A standard Sudoku puzzle, classified as easy on a difficulty scale that included easy, challenging, and difficult ( ), was also used. Participants were provided with pencils and paper during administered tasks. A stopwatch was used for the word recall testing phase.


Data was collected from a cognitive processes lab in the spring semester of 2010 at The University of Texas at Arlington. Before beginning the experiment participants were asked to complete a demographic survey and to sign an informed consent form.

After the participants were randomly divided into the experimental (dual task) and control (single task) groups, the experimental group was instructed to leave the room. Participants were informed that they would be presented with an audio recording of words given at 4 second intervals. They were also instructed that immediately following the presentation they would be asked to recall all the words they could remember from the list. The memory phase consisted of a 1 minute presentation of 15 words followed immediately by the testing phase. In the testing phase participants were given 45 seconds to recall on paper as many words from the list as possible. The single task group was then debriefed, thanked for their time, and instructed to exit the room.

The dual task group was then brought into the room. They were given a Sudoku puzzle and the same instructions for the audio portion of the experiment; however, they were instructed that they would be assessed on their performance of both the memory task and their ability to complete the puzzle. The memory phase was identical to the single task group with the exception of the extra task. The Sudoku puzzle was not assessed but used as a distraction for the dual task. The testing phase was the same; participants were given 45 seconds to recall on paper as many words from the list as possible. The dual task group was then debriefed of the true purpose of the study and thanked for their time.

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On the question of whether divided attention affects memory performance mean number of words recalled were analyzed for the two conditions. The prediction was that there would be a significant decline in the performance of the divided attention group. The effects of divided attention were analyzed using an independent sample one tail t-test. Word recall for the divided attention group (M = 4.889, SD = 1.453) was found to be significantly lower than the control group (M = 8.900, SD = 1.370), t(17) = -6.192, p < .001.


The focus of this study is to examine the influences of a dual task on memory performance. It was predicted by the researches that during the performance of a dual task, participants’ performance would be affected. The results for this study did support this hypothesis. In addition deficits in performance were observed for participants that were placed in the dual task group when compared to the control group. Analyzing the data and relating it to previous research, the researchers have determined that these deficits could be influenced by the limited capacity that working memory is considered to have. As discussed earlier, previous research (Miller, 1956) suggest that task requiring similar cognitive processes can overlap reducing the available resources needed to perform each task efficiently. With the participants utilizing the available resources, those in the control group performed better when considering cognitive demands for their task do not have to be shared as those in the dual task condition. As expected, deficits occurred if the participants’ resources were taxed as seen in the experimental group.

Although analysis of the data did support the hypothesis, there is a concern for the generalization of the results to the overall population. The participants utilized in this particular study were all college student (Psychology Majors) and the relative size of the test group may not be enough to be representative for the population. In addition only two test groups were initiated for this experiment. A more feasible application of this study would be to implement multiple varied groups in each condition to produce more valid results. Replicating this study, researchers could also consider implementing different types of task in order to examine the differences in cognitive resources that utilized during specific task.

In summary, the current research reflects the idea that there is yet a clear answer to the influences of dual tasking on memory. Although this particular study does provide evidence of memory performance being affected when an individual engages them self cognitively with multiple roles, there is a peculiar aspect when considering that some participants outperformed others in the dual task condition. Could this observation be the result of some individuals having the ability to disperse their available resources more efficiently or does this suggest differences in working memory capacities? Considering that we live in a diverse and demanding world, our ability to multitask is determined to be a necessary component for survival. Even more so it becomes discouraging discovering that limitations in multi-tasking could be due to available cognitive resources with some individuals having more than others.

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