Do you study and write with your phone buzzing away nearby? Do you work in a location where roommates and friends can stop by to chat? Have you ever wondered what the impact of such distractions might be on the quality of your work? As you prepare for your final papers, projects, and exams, here is an experimental study of the effects of distractions on your work quality.
The website of the Association for Psychological Science (APS) summarized the research.
Lead author Cyrus Foroughi did his own anecdotal study on how many interruptions he experienced on a quiet Monday morning: “In those two hours, I received five text messages, one phone call, about a dozen messages on Gchat and six emails. A fellow graduate student wandered into my room twice to strike up a conversation...."
With this experience in mind, the researchers were interested in how interruptions affect the overall quality of a person’s work.
“To study this topic, we needed a task whereby quality could be defined beyond the number of errors made or time to complete the task,” Foroughi and colleagues explain. “We selected a complex, creative thought task that mirrors a common real-world task, outlining and writing an essay.”
Before reading on, reflect: What do you think the dependent variable will be in their study? What will the independent variable be? Read on to see if you were correct.
[In one of two studies], around 50 college students were asked to write three essays based on standard college essay prompts created by the College Board. Participants were given 12 minutes to plan and outline their essays on paper, and then were given 12 minutes to actually write their essays using a computer and keyboard.
While they working on their essays, the students were interrupted at random intervals with sets of unrelated puzzle tasks, like solving math problems or unscrambling words. Participants were instructed to complete as much of the interruption task as possible during each of the 60-second interruptions before switching back to working on their essays. These interruptions occurred during two of the three essays so that each participant completed an essay under each of the three conditions (i.e., no interruptions, interruptions during the planning phase, and interruptions during the writing phase).
The essays were then assessed by two trained graders based on a 0-6 scale drawn from the College Board Essay Scoring Guide. The researchers also analyzed the total number of words written and participants’ accuracy on the interruption tasks.
Now that you've read the summary, answer these questions:
a) What is the independent variable? How many levels are there and what are they? What was the dependent variable? (Note--there were a few DVs, as is true in most experiments)
b) Was the independent variable manipulated as independent groups or within groups? What keywords helped you figure this out?
c) What kind of design was it? Posttest only? Prettest-posttest? Repeated measures? Concurrent measures?
Here are the results:
In both of the interruption conditions the essays received significantly lower ratings compared with the control condition — on average, interrupted students received scores that were about half a point lower on the rating scale.
d) Sketch a graph of the results they describe above.
Think about what you can do to minimize distractions as you prepare your final work at the end of the semester. Your GPA will thank you!
a) The independent variable was "type of distraction" with three levels: No distraction, distraction during planning, and distraction during writing. The dependent variables included number of words in the essay, and coded quality of the essay on a 0 to 6 scale.
b) The independent variable was manipulated as within-groups. One cue is that the author states students "were asked to write three essays" (so you know they saw all three levels of the IV). Another cue is this statement: "each participant completed an essay under each of the three conditions."
c) This is a repeated measures design
d) Your graph should have "essay quality" or "essay words total" on the y-axis. On the x-axis, three bars, one for "no distractions" one for "distractions during planning" and one for "distractions during writing."