Funded PhD Research

Shalena Srna

Multitasking: Perception and Shopping

Marketing Department; Faculty Adviser: Rom Y. Schrift and Gal Zauberman

The term multitasking appeared for the first time in a 1965 technical paper by IBM, describing the revolutionary capability of computers to concurrently execute tasks (Witt & Lambert, 1965). Nowadays, this term is typically used to describe people’s engagement in two or more tasks simultaneously. Indeed, in today’s tech-heavy environment, the necessity to multitask is an integral part of daily life (Ophir, Nass, & Wanerm, 2009). We frequently switch between tabs on our computers and smartphones, email, social media, and playing games.

Despite the necessity and prevalence of multitasking, it is generally accepted that humans cannot really perform more than a single task concurrently. That is, for non-automatic activities that require active attention, people shift back and forth between activities and process only a single task at any given time (Conard and Marsh 2014; Leroy 2009; Pashler 1994). Thus, multitasking is more about perception than actual engagement in multiple tasks concurrently (we limit our attention to non-automatic activities. This brings up important questions: what factors would make consumers perceive a certain activity as multi- versus single-tasking? Further, holding the actual activity constant, would the mere perception of multitasking impact consumer behavior in a retail setting? If so, why?

Many retail environments (both online and brick-and-mortar) currently use technology to enhance consumers’ experiences. This technology also provides opportunities for consumers to feel like they are multitasking.

In the current project, we first propose that multitasking in a retail environment is often about people’s perceptions. Second, our goal is to demonstrate that the mere perception of multitasking can improve consumer engagement in a retail environment compared to the perception of single-tasking, holding the task constant. Finally, we hope to find evidence that this increase in engagement may lead to greater attention to different products and shift preferences for products. In order to examine these propositions, we plan to run randomized experiments both online (Amazon’s Mechanical Turk) and at the Wharton Behavioral lab in which participants will be exposed to different retail settings or marketing messages (like commercials).


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