Florida International University Literature Review
Is short term memory retention affected with interruptions?
Our memory consists of the ability to encode information perceived through our senses, which is later stored in our brain and can be recalled whenever we may need it (Piccard, Berthoz, Baulac, Denos, Dupont, Samson and Guariglia, 2010). Information can be the smell of a fruit, the name of a person we just met or how soft that sweater was that you saw in a store. Memory is what we know, and if we forget something as simple as what we were doing one minute ago, then how can we go on about our day? Is it likely that interruption in memory retention may affect our everyday lives? I hypothesize that interruption while trying to learn, write, or perform a simple daily task has a great impact on our memory. The experiment I will conduct will prove this by showing the discrepancies among people who are constantly interrupted while reading a simple story. Research shows that when we disrupt the process of memory retention, it can have an impact on our daily routines, such as work, driving to a destination or school performance. Wouldn’t you think so? If not, research conducted by Cyrus K. Foroughi et al. (2014) showed that interruptions affect the quality of our work performance and according to Grundgeiger, et al (2010) distractions are very regular while working or performing any task at all. Other research showed that we can avoid them and/or manage them so that we can remember to return to our primary tasks (Trafton et al., 2003). In fact, nurses have a particular way of remembering not to forget by using an artifact that reminds them about their primary tasks (Grundgeiger et al., 2010). Although, why is all of this important? According to research, in fields of professions where individuals have high demanding jobs, that allow no room for mistakes and errors, show the implications that arise from distractions and interruptions (Biron et al., 2009). Let me demonstrate the important of memory in the following scenario. For example, if a nurse is preparing to administer drugs on a patient, and she receives a personal phone call, answers it and later forgets one of the drugs she must give the patient, how will this affect the patient? Perhaps his/her blood pressure might go up or down due to the fact that the nurse forgot the medication that controls the patient’s blood pressure, which may lead to further implications such as a lawsuit. Maybe now we understand better why distractions and interruptions can be dangerous, deadly, and irresponsible in some cases. And there is great evidence that supports the effecting role of interruptions in work when dealing with administering drugs, performing surgeries, or even just attending the requests of a patient in a hospital.
According to research interruptions not only cause individuals to have unfinished work, but also the quality of the final result suffers from continued distractions (Foroughi et al., 2014). In the study conducted by Foroughi et al. (2014), experiments are conducted to measure the quality of work after interruptions are placed while outlining and essay, interruptions while writing an essay and no interruptions for the third condition. The results show that work performance quality diminishes as a result of distractions. In a regular work place, more specific, an office environment, we are interrupted an average of six times during a single hour, which causes us to shift focus frequently from what we are currently engaging on to a new problem or dilemma that arises out of nowhere. The hypothesis of Foroughi et al (2014) was proven with the results they collected confirming that interruptions affect the quality of the performed work negatively, not just affects the time it takes to complete it. If we are constantly interrupted, our work gets delayed, and as a result, at the end of the day we might finish our work fast. The work might be finished, but the quality of it might be deceptive. So in one way or another, many individuals experience this dilemma, and in some ways their work performance has suffered in a negative way.
Interruptions have been documented in aviation, while driving, in office environments and the heath care industry. Interruptions during work disrupt the flow of thoughts and the concentration needed to finish the task at hand (Foroughi et al., 2014).
The relevant metrics that are associated with the interruption hampering work at hand are time and errors, and these measures have been researched immensely. Time is a measure of interruption that results in negative consequences. For instance, reaction times have slowed down due to interruption during driving. The research that has observed errors as a measure of interruption has shown reduction in overall accuracy in the performance of the task (Foroughi et al., 2014).
The memory-for-goals program has been employed in many experiments to indicate interruptions of task performance. According to the model, tasks are indicated as goals in memory, and each goal is associated with a certain level of activation. When a person works on a particular task that task goal is activated. In the case of an interruption occurring when a person is performing a certain task, the current goal is suspended and the goal relevant to the interruption becomes comparatively highly activated. Thus, the task one is performing undergoes decay as a function of time. Thus, the longer one is away from the task, the more difficult it becomes for one to come back to the task.
In a study by Grundgeiger et al. (2010), prospective memory and interruptions are described using theoretical models to analyze whether interruptions make it easier or harder for people to resume work after a break. Research has demonstrated how disruptive interruptions can be on cognition. In healthcare, interruptions have been shown to increase the chances of errors in medication administration.
In this research study, the effect of disruption on the nurses functioning in the intensive care units was analyzed using the memory-for-goals theory and the prospective memory theory Grundgeiger et al. (2010).
According to the distributed model of cognition (Trafton et al., 2003), processes of cognition are not limited to persons, but distributed across agents such as processes, people, and devices, and these agents jointly solve cognition problems. So far the distributed agents have not been studied in healthcare settings to analyze interruptions on prospective memory. Consider the following example, you are in the midst of a conversation and the phone rings. If it is an unimportant call, you reschedule the caller and resume the conversation. If the call is important, then you attend to it while also keeping in mind to come back to the conversation you were holding with your friend.
Trafton and his colleagues (2003) researched on the preparatory chance given by the interruption lag, which is the interval between the phone ringing and the actual call. They concluded that the people make a conscious cognitive activity, which is preparatory, during the interruption lag. According to the prospective preparation to resume the task, you encode certain goals to achieve a time for resumption and retrospective preparation involves receiving information from the time of interruption (Trafton, et al., 2003).
In this paper by Trafton et al. (2003), an experiment was conducted where participants in immediate condition received no interruption lag and those in the warning condition obtained a eight seconds interruption lag. Participants in the Warning condition were observed to resume the task at hand that was interrupted more easily than by the people who were in the immediate condition. Immediate condition people resumed the task at hand with practice, however.
In nursing practice, it has been observed that work interruptions (WIs) are pervasive. Work interruptions are defined as breaks in a particular activity that is currently performed in order to carry out a secondary activity. When patient safety is being considered within the healthcare setup, these WIs are causing great safety risks to patients.
Safety risks due to work interruptions are seen with great relevance in the context of administration of medication. First, medication administration tasks are the ones that face the most number of intrusions. Second, work interruptions during medication administration are sure to lead to a great number of errors (Biron et al., 2009).
WI characteristics need to be better understood to overcome medication errors and sort out issues in the healthcare setup. WI sources seem to include nurse colleagues in about 36.5 % of all nurse experienced interruptions. Patient interruption of nurses while they are performing a task is seen accounting for 24.7 % alone. Next, systems failure defined as “the inability of the work system to reliably provide information, services, and supplies when, where, and to who needed,” account for 4.5% of all of the WI experienced by nurses.
A more comprehensive and enhanced understanding of the WIs nurses face during their medication administration task is warranted to minimize errors in the healthcare stump. Strategies must be employed by nurses to identify the WIs hampering their works and must be effectively overcome these WIs that prove great risk factors to patient safety.
Piccardi, et al. (2010) recently have identified two different systems involved in routine and map based memory. A replay of navigation mentally seems to be served by two networks that are distinct from each other. One of them is for the memory reactivation in the long term, and the other for spatial meta imagery that is dynamic in nature.
Also, varying systems of the brain process information concerning near and far extra open space. It was further concluded by scientists who undertook research that two types of memory systems were present – one for navigation and the other for topographical tasks of memory.
In a previous research analysis (Ledoux and Gordon, 2006), vision-spatial memory was analyzed in a large-scale clinical trial. Locomotors trajectories were measured using the Corsi Test created to analyze the vision-spatial memory. It was shown that in subjects that were healthy, the ability to work in a recall manner in the visuo-spatial realm was varying for small- and large-scale surroundings. Moreover, persons with a topographical disorientation suffered in large-scale surroundings and not in small-scale ones. Thus, two memory systems are present, one for processing memory associated with locations of objects, and the other for environment and route memories.
The research conducted by Ledoux and Gordon (2006) focuses on working memory that underlies comprehension of language; specifically, interruptions during reading are analyzed. Interruption does affect adversely the reading process.
Thus, the scientists understood that working memory was vital for discourse integration. Any disruption of the working memory’s operation would lead to interference with the reading comprehension. One way by which the working memory’s functioning might be disrupted would be due to the presentation of a second task not related to the reading. The working memory and the way in which it functions is to be unraveled by understanding the relationship between the interrupting task and the text that is being read.
Altmann and Trafton (2014) used a task comprising of subtasks or steps that have to follow a specific sequence, and the correct completion of these steps requires remembering one’s place in the sequence in order to operationalize the train of thought. Task interruption and errors in selecting the order action are the two domains that fall under behavioral research. In the domain that deals with errors, routine tasks have been studied such as cleaning the house and coffee making.
In daily life, interruption is common. Interrupting leads to a person with a loss of memory of what he was engaged in before being interrupted. On the other hand, a person is easily removed from the interruption and resumes the task at hand. Interruption recovery has been extensively studied by researchers. Memory representations and the relationship between the main task and the interruption have beans studied exclusively.
Interruption is defined by the scientists (Edwards, 1993) of the current research as interference of the working memory. Contextual and temporal knowledge in the long term memory (LTM) may help facilitate the overcoming the interference of the task at hand. The interruption is said to be disruptive if the LTM is not in a position to offer the temporal or contextual information. To analyze the similarity between the main task and interruption, shared material and processing similarity are analyzed.
Similarity due to Shared Materials: NASA recently studied the similarity interruptions and their effect on mission control personnel. The aberrant values of four spacecraft sets were monitored by the subjects. After they tasks were interrupted, the following observation was made. Only those interruptions similar to the main task disrupted recall of the main task.
It was deduced that traces of memory that may be left behind due to the interruption may interfere with the main task being resumed. However, in the case of the main task being represented well in the LMT makes it easy to resume the task following an interruption.
Thus, interruptions do cause a disruption in the progress of the task at hand. Various models have been launched to study the effect of interruption on the progress of the present task. Various parts of the brain have also been noticed to be involved in the processing of memory. When memory is interrupted due to distractions, then it become difficult to resume the task at hand. This becomes a deleterious situation especially in a healthcare setup where patients’ health and safety are pivotal. Nurses are found to be interrupted the most during medication administration. Any interruption during medication administration may result in errors in the task and prove to be disastrous to the patient. Necessary steps must be taken in order for these interruptions to be overcome by nurses. Also, the interruption lag decides whether it is easy or difficult to resume a task which was once disturbed. Hopefully, the research I will conduct will prove my hypothesis and show how interruptions greatly affect our memory while encoding, storing and recalling. From there, perhaps other researches and myself will find a solution to this problem or how to prevent interruptions in the work place, at home, school and while performing many other important tasks.
Altmann, E. A, & Trafton, J.G., (2014),Momentary interruptions can derail the train of thought, Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. 143; 215–226.
Biron, A. D., Lavoie-Tremblay, M., & Loiselle, C. G. (2009). Characteristics of work interruptions during medication administration. Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 41(4), 330-336. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1547-5069.2009.01300.x
Edwards, M., (1993), Task interruption and its effects on memory, University of 0klmoma Graduate College.
Foroughi, C. K., Werner, N. E., Nelson, E. T., & Boehm-Davis, D. (2014. Do interruptions affect quality of work? Human Factors, 56(7), 1262-1271. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0018720814531786
Grundgeiger, T., Sanderson, P., MacDougall, H. G., & Venkatesh, B. (2010). Interruption management in the intensive care unit: Predicting resumption times and assessing distributed support. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 16(4), 317-334. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0021912
Ledoux, K, Gordon, PC. (2006), Interruption-similarity effects during discourse processing, Memory. 14(7); 789–803.
Piccardi, L., Berthoz, A., Baulac, M., Denos, M., Dupont, S., Samson, S., & Guariglia, C. (2010). Different spatial memory systems are involved in small- and large-scale environments: Evidence from patients with temporal lobe epilepsy. Experimental Brain Research, 206(2), 171-177. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00221-010-2234-2
Trafton, J. G., Altmann, E. M., Brock, D. P., & Mintz, F. E. (2003). Preparing to resume an interrupted task: Effects of prospective goal encoding and retrospective rehearsal. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 58(5), 583-603. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S1071-5819(03)00023-5