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Multitasking and creativity focus of interdisciplinary research

By Shari Lau 

In a world of mobile devices and increased demands on time, people have taken to multitasking to keep up. We see them every day: the time-strapped people who email and text while ordering their morning coffee or the people talking on their cellphones while driving. But how has multitasking affected our creativity? 

That's the question of interest to University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire marketing professor Dr. Sydney Chinchanachokchai and psychology major Emily Karch, Stevens Point, in their study titled "Is Creativity Slowing Us Down?: The Role of Multitasking on Consumer Creativity." 

"Knowing how multitasking affects creativity helps marketers in their market segmentation strategy to achieve promotional goals," Chinchanachokchai said. "Oftentimes, marketers rely on consumers for new product ideas that could come from consumers' ability to think outside the box by adapting an existing product or coming up with a new product to solve problems. Moreover, some innovative products, such as do-it-yourself products and 3-D printers, need consumers to use their imagination or creativity in order to use them. Creativity is a key factor that keeps the world moving forward."

During the study, some research participants were asked to perform a single task of generating a creative use for a common object, and others were asked to perform the same single task while also performing a secondary task, such as math calculations or copying target shapes. The results show greater creativity scores for the participants who performed the single task.The researchers also found greater task enjoyment among those in the single-task group. 

Interdisciplinary research projects provide a positive experience for students and academic departments across campus. Karch, who graduated in May, will attend UW-Madison in the fall to pursue a master's degree in social work. She attributes her personal and professional growth to her research experience. Below, Chinchanachokchai and Karch share their experience collaborating on an interdisciplinary research project.

Q&A with Dr. Sydney Chinchanachokchai and Emily Karch 

As a marketing professor, what was it like collaborating with a student from a different major?

Dr. Chinchanachokchai: It can be challenging and rewarding at the same time. It can be challenging because when a student comes from a different background, s/he has to understand how we do research in another discipline. Therefore, in the beginning, I usually assign some research papers for the students to read in order to get a better idea on consumer/marketing research. Marketing is an applied field, and we use a lot of theories from psychology to explain consumers' behaviors. In our case, Emily has a background in psychology theories and method, and she has been involved in some research projects before. So it was easy for us to get started on this project. It is rewarding because at the end of the semester or project when you see the students presenting at a conference or at CERCA (Celebration of Excellence in Research and Creative Activity), you get the idea that they have broadened their perspective on the discipline and gained more understanding on research and the process.  

As a psychology major, what was it like collaborating with a professor from a different major? 

Emily: At first it was a bit intimidating because I have never even taken a marketing class and didn't know anything about marketing. But as the project continued I was able to see the connections or so-called parallels between marketing and some aspects of psychology, such as cognitive psychology. In the end, it was a great experience to be involved with another department because it got me out of my psychology "comfort zone." Being a psychology major was a benefit to me as well as to the project. I was able to add my research knowledge and methodology to a marketing context while also learning about important aspects of marketing that I found interesting. I feel that I made a good choice by choosing to work in the marketing department with Dr. Sydney Chinchanachokchai.  

How do you think interdisciplinary faculty-student research benefits our students and the campus? 

Dr. Chinchanachokchai: The interdisciplinary faculty-student research definitely benefits the students and campus. It opens up an opportunity to bridge the knowledge and theories from different, but related, fields like marketing and psychology and marketing and communication. It also creates connections among different departments and colleges. I now have friends and co-authors in psychology and economics. It definitely benefits the students because sometimes they may be interested in the subject but do not have an opportunity to take classes due to certain reasons. Getting involved in faculty-student research is an alternative way of learning about a certain discipline. Lastly, it goes along with the university's Power of AND branding. Our students are not necessarily defined by only one interest or discipline, and they will be more prepared for the real world if they have knowledge in multiple disciplines. 

How do you think this collaboration affected your education and time at UW-Eau Claire?

Emily: This collaboration has greatly affected my education here at UW-Eau Claire. I have been given many wonderful and enlightening opportunities through this research. Conducting research is a great learning experience and it definitely added to mine in a huge way over the past year. Although it is a lot of work, it pays off in the end. First, I grew not only as a student and soon-to-be professional, but as a person as well. Second, I actually did get paid for this research. This collaboration was a great way for me to make myself more marketable to employers as well as graduate schools. If a research opportunity comes your way, definitely grab onto that because the value of research and what you learn while doing it is not something you can get from a classroom. It is an interactive process that requires out-of-the-box thinking.  

The research, sponsored by UW-Eau Claire's Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, was presented at the 2015 UW Symposium for Undergraduate Research at UW-Milwaukee and at UW-Eau Claire's Celebration of Excellence in Research and Creative Activity event.

For more information about the marketing and creativity research, contact Dr. Sydney Chinchanachokchai at or 715-836-2529.