Using the power of research to inform ICT integration in education

Dario D. Salvucci and Peter Bogunovich (2010) Multitasking and Monotasking: The Effects of Mental Workload on Deferred Task Interruptions, CHI 2010: Multitasking

Recent research has found that forced interruptions at points of higher mental workload are more disruptive than at points of lower workload. This paper investigates a complementary idea: when users experience deferrable interruptions at points of higher workload, they may tend to defer processing of the interruption until times of lower workload. In an experiment, users performed a mail-browser primary task while being occasionally interrupted by a secondary chat task, evenly distributed between points of higher and lower workload. Analysis showed that 94% of the time, users switched to the interrupting task during periods of lower workload, versus only 6% during periods of higher workload. The results suggest that when interruptions can be deferred, users have a strong tendency to “monotask” until primary-task mental workload has been minimized.

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