Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Even brief interruptions spawn errors

Date:
January 7, 2013
Source:
Michigan State University
Summary:
Short interruptions -- such as the few seconds it takes to silence that buzzing smartphone -- have a surprisingly large effect on one's ability to accurately complete a task, according to new research.

New research finds that short interruptions have a surprisingly large effect on one's ability to accurately complete a task.
Credit: momius / Fotolia

Short interruptions -- such as the few seconds it takes to silence that buzzing smartphone -- have a surprisingly large effect on one's ability to accurately complete a task, according to new research led by Michigan State University.

Related Articles


The study, in which 300 people performed a sequence-based procedure on a computer, found that interruptions of about three seconds doubled the error rate.

Brief interruptions are ubiquitous in today's society, from text messages to a work colleague poking his head in the door and interrupting an important conversation. But the ensuing errors can be disastrous for professionals such as airplane mechanics and emergency room doctors, said Erik Altmann, lead researcher on the study.

"What this means is that our health and safety is, on some level, contingent on whether the people looking after it have been interrupted," said Altmann, MSU associate professor of psychology.

The study, funded by the U.S. Navy's Office of Naval Research, is one of the first to examine brief interruptions of relatively difficult tasks. The findings appear in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

Study participants were asked to perform a series of tasks in order, such as identifying with a keystroke whether a letter was closer to the start or the end of the alphabet. Even without interruptions a small number of errors in sequence were made.

Sometimes participants were interrupted and told to type two letters -- which took 2.8 seconds -- before returning to the task. When this happened, they were twice as likely to mess up the sequence.

Altmann said he was surprised that such short interruptions had a large effect. The interruptions lasted no longer than each step of the main task, he noted, so the time factor likely wasn't the cause of the errors.

"So why did the error rate go up?" Altmann said. "The answer is that the participants had to shift their attention from one task to another. Even momentary interruptions can seem jarring when they occur during a process that takes considerable thought."

One potential solution, particularly when errors would be costly, is to design an environment that protects against interruptions. "So before you enter this critical phase: All cell phones off at the very least," Altmann said.

His co-authors are Gregory Trafton of the Naval Research Laboratory and Zach Hambrick of MSU.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Michigan State University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Michigan State University. "Even brief interruptions spawn errors." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 January 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130107100059.htm>.
Michigan State University. (2013, January 7). Even brief interruptions spawn errors. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130107100059.htm
Michigan State University. "Even brief interruptions spawn errors." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130107100059.htm (accessed November 21, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Friday, November 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Your Complicated Job Might Keep Your Brain Young

Your Complicated Job Might Keep Your Brain Young

Newsy (Nov. 20, 2014) Researchers at the University of Edinburgh found the more complex your job is, the sharper your cognitive skills will likely be as you age. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
100-Year-Old Woman Sees Ocean for First Time

100-Year-Old Woman Sees Ocean for First Time

AP (Nov. 20, 2014) Ruby Holt spent most of her 100 years on a farm in rural Tennessee, picking cotton and raising four children. She saw the ocean for the first time thanks to her assisted living center and a group that grants wishes to the elderly. (Nov. 20) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Kids React to Lammily, The Realistic Barbie Alternative

Kids React to Lammily, The Realistic Barbie Alternative

Buzz60 (Nov. 19, 2014) Artist Nickolay Lamm's Kickstarter-funded Lammily doll, based on his 'What Would Barbie Look Like as a Real Woman' project, is finally available to buy. Jen Markham explains how the doll's realistic proportions are going over with a test group of second-graders who are used to the impossible measurements of Barbie dolls. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Trans-Fat Foods Now Linked To Poor Memory

Trans-Fat Foods Now Linked To Poor Memory

Newsy (Nov. 19, 2014) A study presented at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions shows a link between diets high in trans fats and decreased memory recall. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins