Reheating Breakfast: Age And Multitasking On A Computer-Based And A Non-Computer-Based Task


Computers have gradually replaced traditional methods of testing because of the higher precision in data collection, consistent and straightforward use and immunity to bias. For many computer-based instruments, in particular, we currently do not have sufficient information on their generalizability beyond the specific task environment. With consideration of age and computer-based tests, older adults encounter a disadvantage due to computer anxiety and general lack of experience. The present study aimed to compare age effects on a computer-based task that was previously used for another study of age and multitasking. The ability to multitask is vital for independent living.

Materials and Methods

Twenty participants were included in a younger group consisting predominantly of university students who were recruited through posters and flyers put up around campus. An older group consisted of 30 individuals recruited through a Psychology Department panel of volunteer members of the public. They excluded data from one older male who did not understand instructions: n=49. They stated that the study was appropriately approved and had received appropriate consent from participants, and travel expenses reimbursed. Demographic information was collected and then asked participants to rate personal experience with computers on a Likert scale which was followed by the PRMQ. The article explained the experimental segment of the procedure including two breakfast tasks, one as the computer-based breakfast task, and the other as the lab-based breakfast task. The computer task was done on a standard computer monitor and a mouse. The participants were asked to follow the screen prompts to connect a breakfast food with the appropriate cook time for all food to be complete at the same time. They also presented a task to distract. The lab segment was set up in the same way as the virtual tasks, but with DVD players that required interaction to start “cook” time. A distracting task was presented in the same way but with actual paper plates and plastic utensils. The article explained how they determined prospective memory and mean deviation. The distracting task was also measured to determine task performance.


The article stated that a two-tailed t-test was performed to understand potential group differences in education, computer experience, and memory failures that were self-reported on the PRMQ. Education did not present a difference. Older adults expressed less computer experience. Self-reported frequency of prospective memory failures on the PRMQ was similar for both groups. The study found that participants with greater self-reported memory failure had lower prospective memory performance on the LBBT and not on the CBBT. The CBBT table settings showed that people with greater self-reported memory problems were faster during CBBT performance. ANOVA was performed to determine if there was a difference in breakfast task performance levels in older and younger adults. Their findings showed there was an apparent interaction effect driven by the computer-based task generating a more substantial difference between the two age groups in clock checks and table settings relative to the lab task version.


The article then summarized the results and reiterated the intentions and goals of the study. They considered different factors such as an age-related decline in processing speed as a possible contribution to the disadvantage for the older group. The author reflected on potential imprecise applications used that could be made more precise. They considered the aspect of general interest and motivation as a factor to alter results. The implications suggested centered around future psychological research and health promotion for older adults. Limitations included the size of the study. The author suggested the positive addition of assessing the participant’s personalities and attitudes.


The conclusion explained the importance of evaluating computer-based tasks and how they may apply in real-life. They highlight the disadvantage of comparing older adults with younger adults when the use of a computer is involved, as it is likely the use of a computer could change the accuracy of results and alter the older adults perceived cognitive ability. They consider the possibility of the current younger adult’s computer abilities being sustained into their old age.

Strengths and Weaknesses/Follow-Up Research Studies

I believe the strength of this article to be within the attention to the potential disadvantages for the older adults. The study was well conducted, but in need of larger groups with a focus on understanding the participant’s personalities. Older adults are more likely to have gone through life without the proper medical care focusing on mental health issues like today's youth. Today, we see a significant increase in ADHD that could be due to an overall better understanding of the disorder, but also due to over-diagnosis of the disorder. It would be interesting to see if these older adults had any disadvantages due to any abnormalities that had not been addressed or diagnosed. For future research, I believe it would be essential to focus on different personalities between the participants as this plays a significant role in one’s interest and motivation when performing a task. Also, as stated in the article, the use of modernized or more accurate technology could be implemented to look for any significant change in results.

13 January 2020
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