Natural Break Points: The Influence of Priorities and Cognitive and Motor Cues on Dual-Task Interleaving
What factors determine when people interleave tasks when multitasking? Here the authors look at the role of priorities and cognitive and motor cues. A study was conducted in which participants steered a simulated vehicle while also dialing two phone numbers that contained sets of repeating digits. Participants tended to interleave tasks after typing in a complete set of repeating digits and sometimes also at the cognitive chunk boundary. The exact pattern of how participants interleaved these tasks depended on their priority objective. A modeling analysis that explored performance for a series of alternative strategies for task interleaving, given the cognitive and task constraints, suggested why participants avoided interleaving at other points: Such strategies tend to move performance away from a trade-off curve that strikes an optimal balance between dialing and driving performance. The study highlights the role that cognitive and motor cues can play in dual-task performance and the importance of being aware, and acting on, priorities. Further implications and limitations are discussed. © 2012 Human Factors and Ergonomics Society.