Multitasking ability and adaptability in a flight simulator environment - 2011

Multitasking ability and adaptability

Morgan et al carried out research in 20111 to ascertain whether there are cognitive factors that enhance multitasking adaptability, and whether those cognitive factors were different or the same as those associated with multitasking ability.

Illustration 1 shows two sets of correlations between the 'Individual Differences Measures (IDM)' data and the 'Multi-Attribute Task Battery (MATB)' scores. 'Ability' shows the correlations between MATB and IDM measures at baseline. 'Adaptability' shows the correlations between MATB and IDM at increasing levels of difficulty (as well as the average correlation overall) once the effects of 'ability' has been controlled statistically.

Illustration 1. Correlations between cognitive and multitasking measures
IDMs Ability (MATB) Adaptability (MATB)*
Baseline Average Difficulty I Difficulty II Difficulty III Difficulty IV
Working memory .353 .269 .588 .215 .052 .222
Scholastic aptitude .436 .235 .257 .302 .229 .153
Spatial manipulation .068 .534 .485 .560 .464 .628
Creativity .001 -.040 -.331 -.034 .114 .092
(*Partial correlations, once the effects of ability have been statistically controlled.)

The ability for multitasking correlates moderately and positively with working memory and scholastic aptitude, and shows negligible correlations with spatial manipulation and creativity. Multitasking adaptability to increased levels of difficulty shows that, on average, spatial manipulation has a moderate and positive correlation with that skill once the effects of ability has been controlled for (even when working memory and scholastic aptitude also correlate with it, albeit slightly).

Study's scope

This study is limited in its scope, namely because of its small convenient sample. Pending replication, these results should be considered merely descriptive of the sample used.


Research approach

Exploratory study assessing the relationship between several cognitive processes and multitasking (both ability and adaptability).


Quantitative (fixed) in nature, including a mix of a relational design and a longitudinal design.


32 participants, either students in a Midwestern US university (most probably University of Notre Dame, Indiana) or volunteers from a Southern US city (most probably Memphis), where the authors have their workplaces. No other information about the participants is provided other than they are of various educational backgrounds.


Variables of interest for this research were a set of cognitive variables grouped under the name 'Individual Differences Measures' (IDMs), and included the following:

  • working memory
  • scholastic aptitude
  • spatial manipulation
  • creativity

Another two variables of interest were those regarding multitasking, including:

  • multitasking ability
  • multitasking adaptability


The 'Individual Differences Measures' were obtained either via self-reporting of national scholastic aptitude test score or via comprehension, remote association and mental rotation tasks. The multitasking measures were obtained with the Multi-Attribute Task Battery (MATB) (multitasking ability being defined as baseline performance in the test, and multitasking adaptability being assessed via four levels of increasing difficulty in the same test).


Participants completed the computer based IDM test, then five parts of the MATB task (baseline, and difficulty I through IV).

Data analysis

Full and partial correlations were among the statistics calculated (and the ones of relevance for this article).

1. MORGAN Brent, Sidney D’MELLO, Robert ABBOTT, Gabriel RADVANSKY, Michael HAASS & Andrea TAMPLIN (2011). Individual differences in multitasking ability and adaptability. Human Factors (ISSN 0018-7208), 2013, volume 55, number 4, pages 776-788.

Want to know more?

Human Factors - Original article's abstract
This link provides access to the original's abstract and a paid option to the full article.


Dean J BISHOP (2013). Massey University, New Zealand. (dean bishopdean bishop).
Jose D PEREZGONZALEZ (2013). Massey University, Turitea Campus, Private Bag 11-222, Palmerston North 4442, New Zealand. (JDPerezgonzalezJDPerezgonzalez).


Abilash THAPA. Massey University, New Zealand. (Thapa AbilashThapa Abilash)

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