Metacognition of multitasking: How well do we predict the costs of divided attention?

Jason R. Finley, Aaron S. Benjamin, Jason S. McCarley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Risky multitasking, such as texting while driving, may occur because people misestimate the costs of divided attention. In two experiments, participants performed a computerized visual-manual tracking task in which they attempted to keep a mouse cursor within a small target that moved erratically around a circular track. They then separately performed an auditory n-back task. After practicing both tasks separately, participants received feedback on their single-task tracking performance and predicted their dual-task tracking performance before finally performing the 2 tasks simultaneously. Most participants correctly predicted reductions in tracking performance under dual-task conditions, with a majority overestimating the costs of dual-tasking. However, the between-subjects correlation between predicted and actual performance decrements was near 0. This combination of results suggests that people do anticipate costs of multitasking, but have little metacognitive insight on the extent to which they are personally vulnerable to the risks of divided attention, relative to other people.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)158-165
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Applied
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2014


  • Divided attention
  • Dual task
  • Metacognition
  • Multitasking
  • Prediction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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