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Measuring the after-effects of disruption on task performance

Advances in Intelligent Systems and Computing

Abbott, Robert G.; Moyer, Eric; Forsythe, Chris

In many settings, multi-tasking and interruption are commonplace. Multi-tasking has been a popular subject of recent research, but a multitasking paradigm normally allows the subject some control over the timing of the task switch. In this paper we focus on interruptions—situations in which the subject has no control over the timing of task switches. We consider three types of task: verbal (reading comprehension), visual search, and monitoring/situation awareness. Using interruptions from 30 s to 2 min in duration, we found a significant effect in each case, but with different effect sizes. For the situation awareness task, we experimented with interruptions of varying duration and found a non-linear relation between the duration of the interruption and its after-effect on performance, which may correspond to a task-dependent interruption threshold, which is lower for more dynamic tasks.

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