Brain Structure and Function

, Volume 224, Issue 5, pp 1845–1869 | Cite as

Common and distinct neural correlates of dual-tasking and task-switching: a meta-analytic review and a neuro-cognitive processing model of human multitasking

  • Britta WorringerEmail author
  • Robert LangnerEmail author
  • Iring Koch
  • Simon B. Eickhoff
  • Claudia R. Eickhoff
  • Ferdinand C. Binkofski
Original Article


Although there are well-known limitations of the human cognitive system in performing two tasks simultaneously (dual-tasking) or alternatingly (task-switching), the question for a common vs. distinct neural basis of these multitasking limitations is still open. We performed two Activation Likelihood Estimation meta-analyses of neuroimaging studies on dual-tasking or task-switching and tested for commonalities and differences in the brain regions associated with either domain. We found a common core network related to multitasking comprising bilateral intraparietal sulcus (IPS), left dorsal premotor cortex (dPMC), and right anterior insula. Meta-analytic contrasts revealed eight fronto-parietal clusters more consistently activated in dual-tasking (bilateral frontal operculum, dPMC, and anterior IPS, left inferior frontal sulcus and left inferior frontal gyrus) and, conversely, four clusters (left inferior frontal junction, posterior IPS, and precuneus as well as frontomedial cortex) more consistently activated in task-switching. Together with sub-analyses of preparation effects in task-switching, our results argue against purely passive structural processing limitations in multitasking. Based on these findings and drawing on current theorizing, we present a neuro-cognitive processing model of multitasking.


Multitasking Cognitive control Executive function ALE meta-analysis fMRI 



We thank all contacted authors who contributed results of relevant contrasts not explicitly reported in the original publications, and we apologize to all authors whose eligible papers we might have missed.


This study was supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (LA 3071/3-1 to R.L. and S.B.E.; EI 816/4-1 to S.B.E.), the National Institute of Mental Health (R01-MH074457 to S.B.E.), the Helmholtz Portfolio Theme “Supercomputing and Modeling for the Human Brain” (S.B.E.), and the European Union Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under Grant agreement no. 604102 (S.B.E.).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

For this type of study formal consent is not required.

Supplementary material

429_2019_1870_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (187 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 186 kb)
429_2019_1870_MOESM2_ESM.docx (50 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (DOCX 49 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Britta Worringer
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Robert Langner
    • 3
    • 4
    Email author
  • Iring Koch
    • 5
  • Simon B. Eickhoff
    • 3
    • 4
  • Claudia R. Eickhoff
    • 4
    • 6
  • Ferdinand C. Binkofski
    • 1
    • 7
    • 8
  1. 1.Clinical and Cognitive Neurosciences, Department of NeurologyRWTH Aachen University HospitalAachenGermany
  2. 2.Institute of Occupational, Social and Environmental Medicine, Center for Health and Society, Medical FacultyHeinrich Heine University DüsseldorfDüsseldorfGermany
  3. 3.Institute of Systems Neuroscience, Medical FacultyHeinrich Heine University DüsseldorfDüsseldorfGermany
  4. 4.Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine (INM-7)Research Centre JülichJülichGermany
  5. 5.Institute of PsychologyRWTH Aachen UniversityAachenGermany
  6. 6.Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and PsychosomaticsRWTH Aachen University HospitalAachenGermany
  7. 7.Institute for Neuroscience and Medicine (INM-4)Research Center JülichJülichGermany
  8. 8.Jülich Aachen Research Alliance JARA-BRAINAachenGermany

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