The Effect of Interruption Duration

The Effect of Interruption Duration and Demand on Resuming Suspended Goals

Christopher A. Monk
George Mason University

J. Gregory Trafton
Naval Research Laboratory

Deborah A. Boehm-Davis
George Mason University


The time to resume task goals after an interruption varied depending on the duration and cognitive demand of interruptions, as predicted by the memory for goals model (Altmann & Trafton, 2002). Three experiments using an interleaved tasks interruption paradigm showed that longer and more demanding interruptions led to longer resumption times in a hierarchical, interactive task. The resumption time profile for durations up to 1 min supported the role of decay in defining resumption costs, and the interaction between duration and demand supported the importance of goal rehearsal in mitigating decay. These findings supported the memory for goals model and had practical implications for the context where tasks are frequently interleaved such as office settings, driving, emergency rooms, and aircraft cockpits.

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