Improving memory after interruption: exploiting soft constraints and manipulating information access cost.

Phillip Morgan, J Patrick, SM Waldron, SL King, T Patrick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Forgetting what one was doing prior to interruption is an everyday problem. The recent soft constraints hypothesis (Gray, Sims, Fu, and Schoelles, 2006) emphasizes the strategic adaptation of information processing strategy to the task environment. It predicts that increasing information access cost (IAC: the time, and physical and mental effort involved in accessing information) encourages a more memory-intensive strategy. Like interruptions, access costs are also intrinsic to most work environments, such as when opening documents and e-mails. Three experiments investigated whether increasing IAC during a simple copying task can be an effective method for reducing forgetting following interruption. IAC was designated Low (all information permanently visible), Medium (a mouse movement to uncover target information), or High (an additional few seconds to uncover such information). Experiment 1 found that recall improved across all three levels of IAC. Subsequent experiments found that High IAC facilitated resumption after interruption, particularly when interruption occurred on half of all trials (Experiment 2), and improved prospective memory following two different interrupting tasks, even when one involved the disruptive effect of using the same type of resource as the primary task (Experiment 3). The improvement of memory after interruption with increased IAC supports the prediction of the soft constraints hypothesis. The main disadvantage of a high access cost was a reduction in speed of task completion. The practicality of manipulating IAC as a design method for inducing a memory-intensive strategy to protect against forgetting is discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)291 - 306
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Applied
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2009


  • improving memory


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