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The effects of emotive interruptions and distractions on memory recall

Morgan, Phillip; Hughes, Nia; Williams, Craig; Ings, Fay M; Alford, Chris


Phillip Morgan

Nia Hughes

Craig Williams

Fay M Ings


Interruptions divert attention from a task, whereas distractions occur in the background or alongside a task and can be ignored. Both can disrupt working memory (WM). However, little is known about the effects of emotive interruptions and distractions which is surprising given that they occur in many every-day and workplace settings. Take the example of a nurse suspending the programming of a drug-infusion pump for one patient (primary task) to tend to a distressing emergency involving another patient (emotive interruption). Post-interruption errors such as forgetting the suspended task step and/or entering incorrect information could have catastrophic consequences. In the current laboratory experiments, participants performed word recall primary tasks. In one experiment, to-be-remembered words were non-emotive, and trials were interrupted by emotive images varying in valence (positive versus negative scenes) and valence strength (low to high). In another experiment, to-be-remembered words were valent (positive or negative) and participants were distracted instead of interrupted by emotive images. Negative valent interruptions impaired memory recall; markedly when high in valance and positioned at task points with a high WM load. Positive valent interrupting images were also disruptive, but the degree of disruption did not depend upon WM load when interrupted. Negative valent distractions disrupted the ability to maintain WM representations of neutral, positive, and negative valent words whereas positive valent distractions were not disruptive when paired with positive valent words. Findings are discussed in relation to theories of WM, attentional capture, and attentional inhibition. Future work will employ EEG to measure differences in ERPs when interrupted and distracted by emotive stimuli.


Morgan, P., Hughes, N., Williams, C., Ings, F. M., & Alford, C. (2015, August). The effects of emotive interruptions and distractions on memory recall. Poster presented at 2015 Electrical Geodesics Summer School, Eugene, Oregon, USA

Presentation Conference Type Poster
Conference Name 2015 Electrical Geodesics Summer School
Conference Location Eugene, Oregon, USA
Start Date Aug 10, 2015
End Date Aug 21, 2015
Publication Date Aug 12, 2015
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Keywords task interruption, distraction, valence, memory recall, EEG
Public URL
Additional Information Title of Conference or Conference Proceedings : 2015 Electrical Geodesics EGI Summer School