Multitasking: multiple, domain-specific cognitive functions in a virtual environment

Robert H. Logie*, Steven Trawley, Anna Law

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

79 Citations (Scopus)


Multitasking among three or more different tasks is a ubiquitous requirement of everyday cognition, yet rarely is it addressed in research on healthy adults who have had no specific training in multitasking skills. Participants completed a set of diverse subtasks within a simulated shopping mall and office environment, the Edinburgh Virtual Errands Test (EVET). The aim was to investigate how different cognitive functions, such as planning, retrospective and prospective memory, and visuospatial and verbal working memory, contribute to everyday multitasking. Subtasks were chosen to be diverse, and predictions were derived from a statistical model of everyday multitasking impairments associated with frontal-lobe lesions (Burgess, Veitch, de Lacy Costello, & Shallice, 2000b). Multiple regression indicated significant independent contributions from measures of retrospective memory, visuospatial working memory, and online planning, but not from independent measures of prospective memory or verbal working memory. Structural equation modelling showed that the best fit to the data arose from three underlying constructs, with Memory and Planning having a weak link, but with both having a strong directional pathway to an Intent construct that reflected implementation of intentions. Participants who followed their preprepared plan achieved higher scores than those who altered their plan during multitask performance. This was true regardless of whether the plan was efficient or poor. These results substantially develop and extend the Burgess et al. (2000b) model to healthy adults and yield new insight into the poorly understood area of everyday multitasking. The findings also point to the utility of using virtual environments for investigating this form of complex human cognition.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1561-1574
Number of pages14
JournalMemory and Cognition
Early online date21 Jun 2011
Publication statusPublished - 30 Nov 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • spatial cognition
  • working memory


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