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The Persistence of Distraction: The Hidden Costs of Intermittent Multitasking


We examined the hidden costs of intermittent multitasking. Participants performed a pursuit-tracking task (Experiment 1) or drove in a high-fidelity driving simulator (Experiment 2) by itself or while concurrently performing an easy or difficult backwards counting task that periodically started and stopped, creating on-task and off-task multitasking epochs. A novel application of the Detection Response Task (DRT), a standardized protocol for measuring cognitive workload (ISO 17488, 2016), was used to measure performance in the on-task and off-task intervals. We found striking costs that persisted well after the counting task had stopped. In fact, the multitasking costs dissipated as a negatively accelerated function of time with the largest costs observed immediately after multitasking ceased. Performance in the off-task interval remained above baseline levels throughout the 30-s off-task interval. We suggest that loading new procedures into working memory occurs fairly quickly, whereas purging this information from working memory takes considerably longer. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved).

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