Multitasking as Consumer Compensatory Control

Oxford University Press
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Journal of Consumer Research, 2022, 48, (3), pp. 456-473
Issue Date:
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Consumer multitasking (i.e., working on multiple tasks simultaneously) is a widespread modern phenomenon, yet the literature lacks an understanding of when and why consumers multitask. We experimentally show that consumers engage in multitasking behavior as a way to compensate for feelings of low control. Specifically, across five main studies and seven web appendix studies using two different multitasking paradigms, we find that consumers feeling low (vs. high) control volitionally choose to multitask more on subsequent tasks, rather than do the tasks sequentially (i.e., one task at a time). Mediation and moderation evidence demonstrate that this effect is driven by increased motivations to use time resources efficiently for those feeling low (vs. high) control. We also find that multitasking generally results in suboptimal consumer decision-making and decreased task performance. An intervention that altered consumer lay beliefs regarding multitasking and time efficiency was effective in lowering multitasking behavior for consumers experiencing low control during the COVID-19 pandemic. By investigating a cause of consumer multitasking and the underlying mechanism, our studies contribute to research on consumer multitasking, perceptions of control, and resource allocation with important implications for advertisers and marketing managers.
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