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Having to start all over again? The consequences of interruptions.

  • Start date: 01 February 2009
  • End date: 31 January 2010

Estimates of how often people are interrupted during office work range from every ten to every three minutes, and people commonly continue with another two tasks before they return to the one they had left prior to the interruption. A typical context for interruptions is office work, in particular reading. Interruptions during reading are particularly consequential because of the large amount of information that often needs to be maintained; refreshing this information after an interruption is often a costly and time-consuming task.

The current proposal seeks:

  • to investigate how interruptions affect the normal reading of text;
  • to identify what makes some readers more efficient in dealing with interruptions than others;
  • to determine whether people can be trained to deal with interruptions more effectively.

To pursue these three goals, the current study uses eye-tracking methodology to investigate online processes during the most natural of all reading situations: reading for comprehension. The results will enhance our understanding of the consequences of interruptions, laying the groundwork for more effective coping-strategies. The outcome of this study will be of special interest to people who work in an interruption-laden environment or who are particularly vulnerable to interruptions.