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January 13, 2014

Multitasking—it's in the genes

Daily Briefing

A person's ability to juggle several tasks at once may be a result of their genetics, according to new research in the field of neurogenomics—the study of the brain in relation to performance.

Women may be hardwired to be better multitaskers

In a recent study, which was published in the journal Human Factors, researchers examined the performance of 99 men and women from ages 18 to 38. The study was funded by a grant from the Air Force Research Lab at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

The participants were divided into three groups based on their genotypes and asked to perform a simulated air-defense task. Over the course of four training periods, the participants played a game in which they controlled unmanned aircrafts with the goal of destroying enemy targets, preventing enemy incursions, and avoiding friendly fire, while also attending to another communications task.

The researchers found that participants with a certain genotype of a gene called Catechol-O-Methyltransferase (COMT) performed better and showed more improvement than individuals with other genotypes. The COMT gene has been shown to increase dopamine levels in the brain's prefrontal cortex which memory, reasoning, and problem solving.

"Dopamine availability in the [prefrontal cortex] appears to be particularly important when task demands are high," the authors wrote.

The findings could hold promise for structuring training programs for real-world pilots of unmanned drones, the researchers say. The study also suggests that matching training to individuals based on their cognitive abilities could be more effective than traditional selection criteria (Medical News Today, 1/10).

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