New research project on work interruptions started

Jan 26, 2022

The phone rings, a colleague knocks on the door and every new email announces itself with a signal tone – while you are working on a text that urgently needs to go out today. Along with time and performance pressure, interruptions are one of the greatest stress factors in modern working environments. Yet little is known about the cognitive processes that play a role in coping with work interruptions. These are the focus of the newly funded DFG project “Investigations on the influence of interruptions on attentional and working memory performance in younger and older adults using EEG methodology”, which recently started.

Photo: bruce mars/

Work interruptions are characterised by a brief interruption of a primary task caused by an external source and associated with the completion of an unexpected second task. Working memory and attention processes are of particular importance in coping with interruptions. It is these that are needed to keep the original task in mind during the interruption and to refocus on that task after the interruption. Age-related changes in these cognitive functions could also be a reason why older employees often have more problems with work interruptions than younger ones.

Understanding neurocognitive mechanisms

The project that has now been launched is investigating the neurocognitive mechanisms that are important in coping with work interruptions. Electrophysiological methods are used for this purpose. One focus is on age-related differences in working memory and attention control. In addition, research will be conducted into which environmental conditions play a role, for example, to what extent one can mentally adjust to work interruptions and whether cognitive control resources can be used preventively to cope with interruptions. Special attention will be paid in the project to realistic experimental paradigms in order to build a bridge between cognition-theoretical models and the workplace context.

Scientific Contact:
PD Dr. Daniel Schneider
Head of Group Information Processing
Phone: +49 231 1084-265

PD Dr. Stephan Getzmann
Head of Networking Group Aging
Phone: +49 231 1084-338

Press contact:
Anne Rommel
Press Officer
Phone: +49 231 1084-239