MSU Study Shows Brief Interuptions May Double Errors

Jan 7, 2013

A quick glance at a cell phone won’t just hurt your ability to drive.  It may also double the errors you make at work.

Researchers at Michigan State University are exploring how interruptions affect the work place.

Erik Altmann is an Associate Professor of Psychology at MSU.

He says the study asked 300 college students to perform a series of tasks in order. 

Occasionally they were interrupted for about 2 seconds then returned their attention to the task.

Altmann says the results actually surprised him.  “I did not think interruptions of two seconds would have any effect on people’s performance.  And so, even though we may think they are important and they may actually involve important information, there is a cost to the person you are interrupting."

But their errors actually doubled if they were interrupted for about 2 seconds then resumed the task.

And Altmann says the results may be more significant when he expands the study to include older adults.  “Our cognitive processes slow down and you know we have these filters on the world a little bit, and we don’t quite have the same training that younger adults to do with multi-tasking and so we may be even more at risk.”

Altmann recommends turning off cell phones and alerting co-workers about deadlines to minimize errors. 

-  Chris Zollars, Michigan Radio Newsroom

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