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UBC Theses and Dissertations

An investigation of the effects of matching attentional draw with utility in computer-based interruption Gluck, Jennifer Shari


We all experience interruption in our daily lives when something causes a break in our actions, activities, or concentration. The number of channels through which we may interrupt each other has multiplied with the advent of communication and information technology, beginning with the telephone and increasing with email and instant messaging systems. Moreover, technology itself has become a source of interruption through calendar systems, software update reminders, and even battery monitor warnings. Interruption has become pervasive to the point where it is overwhelming. Consequently, research in the Human-Computer Interaction literature has focused largely on the negative effects of interruption. Yet, the fact that we continue to propagate and tolerate computer-based interruption suggests that there is some value associated with it. In this thesis, we explore how interruption can be harnessed for beneficial means by empirically investigating a design guideline that may help to mitigate negative effects: matching the amount of attention attracted by an interruption’s notification signal to the usefulness of the interruption content. In three controlled studies, we investigated the effects of matching attentional draw of notification to interruption utility in terms of annoyance, benefit, workload, and performance. Study 1 examined notification signals in terms of their detection times and established a set of three significantly different notification signals along the spectrum of attentional draw. Study 2 was an initial investigation of matching these different signals to interruptions with different levels of utility. In our final study we compared our strategy of matching attentional draw and utility to the status quo of static notification methods. Our results indicate that interfaces that matched attentional draw to utility were associated with decreased annoyance and an increased perception of benefit compared to interfaces that used a static level of attentional draw. These and other secondary results are discussed, along with design implications and directions for future work. The research presented is an initial step towards understanding and exploiting the benefits of matching attentional draw of notification to the utility of interruption content.

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