Timecourse of recovery from task interruption: Data and a model
Interruption of a complex cognitive task can entail, for the “interruptee,” a sense of having to recover afterward. We examined this recovery process by measuring the timecourse of responses following an interruption, sampling over 13,000 interruptions to obtain stable data. Response times dropped in a smooth curvilinear pattern for the first 10 responses (15 sec or so) of postinterruption performance. We explain this pattern in terms of the cognitive system retrieving a displaced mental context from memory incrementally, with each retrieved element adding to the set of primes facilitating the next retrieval. The model explains a learning effect in our data in which the timecourse of recovery changes over blocks, and is generally consistent with current representational theories of expertise.