TitleAn eye movement analysis of the effect of interruption modality on primary task resumption.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2010
AuthorsRatwani, RM, Trafton, JG
JournalHuman Factors
Date Published06/2010
KeywordsAssociation, Attention, Auditory Perception, Cues, Eye Movements, Goals, Humans, Reaction Time, Task Performance and Analysis, User-Computer Interface, Visual Perception

OBJECTIVE: We examined the effect of interruption modality (visual or auditory) on primary task (visual) resumption to determine which modality was the least disruptive.

BACKGROUND: Theories examining interruption modality have focused on specific periods of the interruption timeline. Preemption theory has focused on the switch from the primary task to the interrupting task. Multiple resource theory has focused on interrupting tasks that are to be performed concurrently with the primary task. Our focus was on examining how interruption modality influences task resumption.We leverage the memory-for-goals theory, which suggests that maintaining an associative link between environmental cues and the suspended primary task goal is important for resumption.

METHOD: Three interruption modality conditions were examined: auditory interruption with the primary task visible, auditory interruption with a blank screen occluding the primary task, and a visual interruption occluding the primary task. Reaction time and eye movement data were collected.

RESULTS: The auditory condition with the primary task visible was the least disruptive. Eye movement data suggest that participants in this condition were actively maintaining an associative link between relevant environmental cues on the primary task interface and the suspended primary task goal during the interruption.

CONCLUSION: These data suggest that maintaining cue association is the important factor for reducing the disruptiveness of interruptions, not interruption modality.

APPLICATION: Interruption-prone computing environments should be designed to allow for the user to have access to relevant primary task cues during an interruption to minimize disruptiveness.

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