Have you ever wondered why women find it easier to switch between tasks? That is because men need to mobilise additional areas of their brain and use more energy than women when multitasking, a new study suggests. Needing to switch attention between tasks causes stronger activation in certain brain regions in men compared to women.
Identifying exactly which areas of male and female brains respond differently and why has so far been unclear, researchers from National Research University Higher School of Economics (HSE) in Russia said.
In men, there is greater activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal areas of the brain compared to women, as well as activation in some other areas which is not usually observed in women. Such differences are typical of younger men and women aged 20 to 45. Regardless of gender and age, task switching always involves activation in certain areas of the brain, more specifically, bilateral activation of the dorsolateral prefrontal areas, inferior parietal lobes and inferior occipital gyrus. However, researchers demonstrate that in women, task switching appears to require less brain power compared to men, who showed greater activation in the dorsolateral prefrontal areas as well as the involvement of supplementary motor areas and insula, which was not observed in women.
“We know that stronger activation and involvement of supplementary areas of the brain are normally observed in subjects faced with complex tasks,” said Svetlana Kuptsova from HSE. “Our findings suggest that women might find it easier than men to switch attention and their brains do not need to mobilise extra resources in doing so, as opposed to male brains,” said Kuptsova. The experiments involved 140 healthy volunteers, including 69 men and 71 women aged between 20 and 65.
The subjects were asked to perform a variety of tasks. In one of the experiments using functional MRI, they were asked to perform a test that required switching attention between sorting objects according to shape (round or square) and number (one or two), in a pseudo-random order. In addition to this, neuropsychological tests were conducted, including the D-KEFS Trail Making Test to measure the subject’s ability to switch attention and the Wechsler Memory Scale test to measure their audial and visual memory.
The researchers found that the gender differences in the extent of brain activation when switching between tasks only occurred in subjects younger than 45-50, while those aged 50 and older showed no gender differences either in brain activation or speed of task switching. According to the researchers, older men and women starting at the age of 45 in women and 55 in men experienced both increased activation of key areas involved and mobilisation of additional brain resources.