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Psychon Bull Rev. 2005 Dec;12(6):1011-7.

Distraction and action slips in an everyday task: evidence for a dynamic representation of task context.

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  • 1Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia 19104-6241, USA.


We report here a novel and counterintuitive effect of distraction on routine sequential action. The effect, predicted by a recent computational model of sequential behavior, relates to the tendency for a momentary distraction, such as a brief interruption, to lead to subsequent slips of action. The specific prediction is that errors should be more likely following a distraction occurring toward the middle of a subtask sequence than following a distraction occurring at the end of a subtask. This was tested and confirmed in an experiment involving repeated performance of an everyday task (coffee making) under conditions involving frequent interruption. The observed effect provides differential support for existing models of sequential behavior and offers a highly constraining benchmark for future theories.

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