There's a lot of research about how interruptions affect cognitive performance.

  • Are there any studies that have looked at the effect of merely expecting to be interrupted (withou being actually interrupted) on performance?
  • What does these studies conclude about the effect of merely expecting an interruption on performance?
  • $\begingroup$ Could you give an example task where interruption comes into play? I'm asking because 'interruption' could mean different things to different subfields of cognitive science. Anything from perceptual masking all the way up to having a confederate verbally cutoff the subject could be considered interruption. $\endgroup$
    – zergylord
    Mar 7, 2012 at 19:32
  • $\begingroup$ the actual interruption doesn't matter to me (it could be any of those you mentioned or something else). the question is whether someone done any work on the effect of expecting to be interrupted $\endgroup$
    – Eyal Peer
    Mar 13, 2012 at 12:49

1 Answer 1


Fortin and Masse (2000) explored the effect of expecting an interruption on the ability to accurately produce a timing interval (e.g., producing a 2000 millisecond timing interval):

From the abstract:

The interference from nontemporal processing on concurrent time estimation is usually attributed to disruption in timing caused by artentional requirements of nontemporal processing. Here, we examined interruption in timing without concurrent nontemporal processing. Empty breaks of various durations, during time-interval production, lengthened produced intervals. Moreover, an effect of break location was observed: Intervals lengthened proportionally to prebreak duration. When cued and uncued uninterrupted trials were introduced, the lengthening was proportional to the duration for which a break was expected. It was concluded that attentional time-sharing between time estimation and expectation of its interruption contributed to the interference effect in time-estimation research, independently of any concurrent processing requirements during time estimation.

So, I suppose you could use this as evidence to support the idea that if an individual is anticipating an interruption, this might consume some attentional resources, especially if he or she is tuned into a signal that might communicate the commencement of the interruption.


  • Fortin, C. and Masse, N. (2000). Expecting a break in time estimation: Attentional time-sharing without concurrent processing. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 26, 1788. PUBLISHER PAGE

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