If you’re reading this article while simultaneously pumping iron or making dinner, chances are you’re a young woman.
At least, this seems to be the conclusion drawn from a new study that suggests young women beat out men and older women when it comes to multi-tasking.
The study, recently published in the Royal Society Open Science journal, found that a distracting brain-teaser throws off men’s walking gait but leaves most women unfazed.
Researchers found that while walking on a treadmill, men – and women over 60 – began swinging their right arm less while trying to figure out a complex language test. It is believed that both language function and right arm movement are controlled chiefly by the brain’s left hemisphere.
"Women under 60 seemed to be resistant to this effect, as they were able to perform the verbal task with no change in arm swing," said neuroscientist and study co-author Tim Killeen of the University Hospital Balgrist in Switzerland.
"In men and older women, the verbal task appears to overwhelm the left brain to the extent that the movement of the arm on the right is reduced.
We were surprised to find such a consistent gender difference in how two relatively simple behaviours — cognitive control and arm swing — interact with one another.”
The participants in the study were first asked to walk normally on the treadmill, then to do so while completing a verbal task called the Stroop test. The test involves printing the name of a color in a non-corresponding color, then asking the person to say the color of the ink, not the word itself.
While walking normally, the left and right arms swung roughly equally.
"When we added the verbal task, we observed that in men of all ages and women over 60, this symmetry broke down, with a reduction in right arm swing while the left arm carried on swinging normally," said Killeen.
"I think this shows that younger women may be able to resist interference of these two fairly specific behaviours.”
The fact that women over the age of 60 face the same multi-tasking challenges as men may provide some context for the findings, said the researchers, as brain receptors of the female hormone oestrogen might get a greater boost in younger women.
So there you have it, fellas. Give the young lady in your life some credit – and maybe a hand.