Individual Differences in Working-Memory Capacity and Task Resumption Following Interruptions

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Abstract

Previous research has shown that there is a time cost (i.e., a resumption lag) associated with resuming a task following an interruption and that the longer the duration of the interruption, the greater the time cost (i.e., resumption lag increases as interruption duration increases). The memory-for-goals model (Altmann & Trafton, 2002) suggests that this greater time cost is a result of increased interference caused by longer duration interruptions. Therefore, the goal for this research was to determine whether individuals who can better manage interference, i.e., individuals with higher working-memory capacity (WMC), can resume tasks more quickly following interruptions than those who cannot manage interference as well (i.e., individuals with lower WMC). A procedural interruption task with 3 different interruption durations and a measure of WMC were completed by 229 students. In line with previous research, we found a strong positive relationship between interruption duration and resumption lag. We found a strong negative effect of WMC on resumption lag (i.e., increases in WMC reduced resumption lags). Notably, WMC moderated the effect of interruption duration on resumption lag (i.e., increases in WMC attenuated the positive relationship between interruption duration and resumption lag). Specifically, individuals with high WMC experienced small increases in resumption lag as interruption duration increased, whereas individuals with low WMC experienced substantial increases in resumption lag as interruption duration increased. Our data suggest that individuals with higher WMC are less susceptible to interference caused by interruptions.

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