Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

The emotional side of task interruption: Effects on memory recall

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


Phillip Morgan

Nia Hughes

Fay M Ings

Craig Williams


Being interrupted whilst performing a task tends to impair subsequent performance on
measures such as memory recall. However, little is known about the effects of interruptions with an
emotive content which is surprising given how often they occur. Take the example of a medical
professional having to suspend the programming of a drug-infusion pump (primary task) to tend to a
distressing emergency (interruption) and at some future point having to resume and continue with the
interrupted task. Any error, such as forgetting a key step, could have catastrophic consequences.
Thus, understanding the effects of emotive interruptions is of great importance. In the current
laboratory-based experiment, participants performed free recall word memory tasks. On some trials,
they were interrupted by images that occurred at task points associated with different levels of
working-memory load. Some images depicted emotive scenes varying in valence (positive versus
negative) and valence strength (e.g., strong versus mild negative). As predicted, negative valent
interruptions significantly impaired memory recall; markedly so when higher in valance and
positioned at task points with a higher working-memory load. In contrast, positive valent
interruptions were less disruptive overall. Theoretical explanations of these findings are discussed, as
well as practical implications and future directions.


Morgan, P., Hughes, N., Ings, F. M., & Williams, C. (2015, July). The emotional side of task interruption: Effects on memory recall. Paper presented at Experimental Psychology Society Summer 2015 Meeting, University of Lincoln

Presentation Conference Type Conference Paper (unpublished)
Conference Name Experimental Psychology Society Summer 2015 Meeting
Conference Location University of Lincoln
Start Date Jul 8, 2015
End Date Jul 10, 2015
Publication Date Jul 10, 2015
Peer Reviewed Not Peer Reviewed
Keywords interruption, memory recall, emotional memory, valence
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information Title of Conference or Conference Proceedings : Experimental Psychology Society Summer 2015 Meeting