The effects of interruptions on decision-making with applications in medicine

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Copyright: Sloane, Jennifer
From a child interrupting a conversation between her parents to ask "What's for dinner?" to a nurse interrupting a physician in the middle of a complex procedure with an urgent message, interruptions are an inevitable part of our daily lives no matter who we are, where we live, or what we do. Interruptions can have a variety of affects on people's performance and behavior. While interruptions may sometimes facilitate performance, often interruptions have negative consequences. For example, interruptions may result in people making more errors or forgetting to complete a prior task altogether. This thesis examines existing strategies to help mitigate interruption costs and explores the effects of interruptions within different decision environments. Chapter I introduces the topic by discussing a few theoretical frameworks of interruptions and reviewing prior research on what makes interruptions disruptive. One strategy to minimize interruption costs is to use what is called an interruption lag, which can be thought of as taking time to prepare for a pending interruption. Chapter II presents a novel experiment to systematically explore the potential benefits of interruptions lags and an alternative intervention (i.e. providing feedback) when interruption lags are not possible. Chapters III and IV discuss the results from three experiments and a final replication study that all focus on how interruptions affect people's decision making in unique environments. The environments consist of easy problems (i.e. basic arithmetic problems) and trick problems, designed in such a way to lead the reader down an incorrect path. Results from these studies were mixed. While there was some evidence that interruptions may make people more susceptible to falling for the trick answer, this finding was inconsistent across all the experiments. Chapter V applies the findings from the previous chapters to a medical context. This chapter presents novel medical cases that were developed with the help of a medical expert. These cases consisted of easy, hard, and trick cases designed for medical students. The goals of this chapter were to validate the cases and to investigate the effects of interruptions within the different case types. The final chapter (Chapter VI) concludes with a general discussion of the experimental findings, the theoretical implications of the results, and the broader implications of this research for the field of medicine.
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PhD Doctorate
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