Adults are better at multitasking than teenagers, a study has found.
Researchers compared two groups of female volunteers, one aged 11 to 17 and the other 22 to 30, who had to perform a memory task while being distracted by social interactions.
They found that although both were affected by "cognitive load", the adults did better. In the multitasking situations, accuracy fell by about about 10% for adults and 15% for the youngsters.
The team, led by Kathryn Mills - from the University College London Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, wrote in the journal Royal Society Open Science: "Multitasking situations that some adults navigate effectively might be too difficult for some adolescents.
"These results might have implications for how adults who work with adolescents (eg teachers and mentors) structure activities with adolescents. For example, in-class group work might be particularly difficult for adolescents who are already struggling with the assignment topic."
The study involved asking the participants to remember a two or three digit number before an elaborate social interaction task that involved moving objects between slots in a set of four-by-four shelves.
Objects and their destinations were chosen according to the viewpoint of a "director" positioned either behind or in front of the shelves, or whether the director was male or female.
Afterwards, volunteers had to recall the numbers they had memorised before the distraction task.
The researchers concluded: "Overall, adolescents were less adept at multitasking than adults when under high cognitive load. These results suggest that multitasking during social interactions incurs performance deficits, and that adolescents are more sensitive than adults to the effects of cognitive load while multitasking."