Faculty Scholarly Dissemination Grants


The Benefits Of Interruptions During Complex Task Performance




College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Date Range



Interruptions impair performance, but they happen constantly in chaotic environments like Emergency Rooms. Unlike the interruptions examined in the classic literature, in which interruptions typically distract participants from their primary task, interruptions in more complex, real-world environments are often relevant to suspended actions. Such relevant interruptions may serve to reduce demands on working memory and prospective memory by eliminating the need to monitor multiple aspects of complex situations. We developed computer-based simulation games that required parallel problem solving of multiple crimes (undergraduates) or multiple medical cases (physicians). We then manipulated the presence of interruptions that re-called the player to suspended tasks. Such interruptions led to better overall performance, as measured by total pieces of data collected and other measures of global efficiency. These results add to the classic view by examining an important type of interruptions the field has neglected: relevant ones.

Conference Name

Annual Meeting of the Psychonomic Society

Conference Location

Seattle, WA

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