The Effects of Voluntary versus Forced Task Switching on Task Performance

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Title: The Effects of Voluntary versus Forced Task Switching on Task Performance
Author: Panepinto, Marie
Advisors: Douglas J Gillan, Committee Chair
Christipher B Mayhorn, Committee Member
Anne Collins McLaughlin, Committee Member
Abstract: Research on task switching has focused on the relatively well known task switching cost, usually defined as an increase in RT on a trial directly following a switch. Two main issues with previous studies suggest that their results may not be applicable to real world scenarios; one, that they typically use short and arbitrary tasks in comparison to real work situations and two, that the vast majority force participants to switch rather than allowing them to do so voluntarily, as is common in the workplace. The current experiment utilized two longer lasting tasks (document proofreading and a Sudoku puzzle) to more closely resemble real world sitations and four task switching groups. One group switched voluntarily, one was forced without warning, one was forced with a cue that a switch would be coming, and one served as a no switch control group. Performance, reaction time, and mental workload (NASA-TLX) were measured. Task switch group produced no differential effects on these variables, and no task switching cost was found. Though the hypothesis were not met, these results lend support to the notion that previous lab studies may not adequately resemble real world scenarios and that micromanaging small tasks, and switching between comparatively longer lasting tasks may not be the same thing. More research on this area may help to produce a better understanding of why people task switch and what they experience cognitively when they do so.
Date: 2009-12-03
Degree: MS
Discipline: Psychology

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