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What makes an interruption disruptive? Understanding the effects of interruption relevance and timing on performance

Gould, AJJ; (2014) What makes an interruption disruptive? Understanding the effects of interruption relevance and timing on performance. Doctoral thesis , UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

Interruptions disrupt activity, hindering performance and provoking errors. They present an obvious challenge in safety-critical environments where momentary slips can have fatal consequences. Interruptions are also a problem in more workaday settings, like offices, where they can reduce productivity and increase stress levels. To be able to systematically manage the negative effects of interruptions, we first need to understand the factors that influence their disruptiveness. This thesis explores how the disruptiveness of interruptions is influenced by their relevance and timing. Seven experimental studies investigate these properties in the context of a routine data-entry task. The first three experiments explore how relevance and timing interact. They demonstrate that the relevance of interruptions depends on the contents of working memory at the moment of interruption. Next, a pair of experiments distinguish the oft-conflated concepts of interruption relevance and relatedness. They show that interruptions with similar content to the task at hand can negatively affect performance if they do not contribute toward the rehearsal of goals in working memory. By causing active interference, seemingly useful interruptions that are related to the task at hand have the potential to be more disruptive than entirely unrelated, irrelevant interruptions. The final two experiments in this thesis test the reliability of the effects observed in the first five experiments through alternative experimental paradigms. They show that relevance and timing effects are consistent even when participants are given control over interruptions and that these effects are robust even in an online setting where experimental control is compromised. The work presented in this thesis enhances our understanding of the factors influencing the disruptiveness of interruptions. Its primary contribution is to show that when we talk about interruptions, ‘relevance’, ‘irrelevance’ and ‘relatedness’ must be considered in the context of the contents of working memory at the moment of interruption. This finding has implications for experimental investigations of interrupted performance, efforts to under- stand the effects of interruptions in the workplace, and the development of systems that help users manage interruptions.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: What makes an interruption disruptive? Understanding the effects of interruption relevance and timing on performance
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences > UCL Interaction Centre
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1458627
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