Is multitasking mastery in the genes?

January 7, 2014

Human factors/ergonomics researchers have long studied the connection between cognitive function and the ability to perform well on multiple simultaneous tasks, and recently a group of neuroergonomics researchers went a step further to examine a genetic link to multitasking ability. Neuroergonomics is the study of the brain in relation to performance.

In their Human Factors paper, "Interactive Effects of the COMT Gene and Training on Individual Differences in Supervisory Control of Unmanned Vehicles," Parasuraman and colleagues hypothesized that individuals with the Met/Met genotype of the Val158Met variant of the Catechol-O-Methyltransferase (COMT) gene would perform better in a simulated air-defense task than would people without that genotype. The presence of the COMT gene has been shown to increase in the (PFC), which controls executive function (e.g., memory, reasoning, problem solving). "Dopamine availability in the PFC appears to be particularly important when task demands are high," the authors note in the paper.

Parasuraman et al. examined the performance of 99 men and women ages 18 to 38, who were divided into three genotyped groups based on the Val158Met variant. Over the course of four training blocks, participants controlled six (UAVs) in low- and high-task-load conditions to destroy enemy targets, prevent enemy incursions, and avoid friendly fire while attending to a communications task.

The researchers did indeed find that participants with the Met/Met genotype of the COMT gene showed more improvement with training and performed better than did those in the other two genotype (Val/Met and Val/Val) groups.

The results of this study, which was supported by a grant from the Air Force Research Lab, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, are promising for improving the training of real-world operators of multiple UAVs. Parasuraman et al. also note that the work has value for illustrating that matching training to individuals based on their cognitive abilities could be more important than other factors in personnel selection.

Explore further: Air pollution and genetics combine to increase risk for autism

Related Stories

Air pollution and genetics combine to increase risk for autism

December 2, 2013
Exposure to air pollution appears to increase the risk for autism among people who carry a genetic disposition for the neurodevelopmental disorder, according to newly published research led by scientists at the Keck School ...

Genetic marker for placebo response identified in IBS patients

October 23, 2012
Although placebos have played a critical role in medicine and clinical research for more than 70 years, it has been a mystery why these inactive treatments help to alleviate symptoms in some patients – and not others. Now ...

Recommended for you

Scientists provide insight into genetic basis of neuropsychiatric disorders

July 21, 2017
A study by scientists at the Children's Medical Center Research Institute at UT Southwestern (CRI) is providing insight into the genetic basis of neuropsychiatric disorders. In this research, the first mouse model of a mutation ...

Scientists identify new way cells turn off genes

July 19, 2017
Cells have more than one trick up their sleeve for controlling certain genes that regulate fetal growth and development.

South Asian genomes could be boon for disease research, scientists say

July 18, 2017
The Indian subcontinent's massive population is nearing 1.5 billion according to recent accounts. But that population is far from monolithic; it's made up of nearly 5,000 well-defined sub-groups, making the region one of ...

Mutant yeast reveals details of the aberrant genomic machinery of children's high-grade gliomas

July 18, 2017
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital biologists have used engineered yeast cells to discover how a mutation that is frequently found in pediatric brain tumor high-grade glioma triggers a cascade of genomic malfunctions.

Late-breaking mutations may play an important role in autism

July 17, 2017
A study of nearly 6,000 families, combining three genetic sequencing technologies, finds that mutations that occur after conception play an important role in autism. A team led by investigators at Boston Children's Hospital ...

Newly discovered gene variants link innate immunity and Alzheimer's disease

July 17, 2017
Three new gene variants, found in a genome wide association study of Alzheimer's disease (AD), point to the brain's immune cells in the onset of the disorder. These genes encode three proteins that are found in microglia, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.