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Abstract: We describe a study on the influence of instant messaging (IM) on ongoing computing tasks. The
study both replicates and extends earlier work on the cost of sending notifications at different times and the
sensitivity of different tasks to interruption. We investigate alternative hypotheses about the nature of disruption
for a list evaluation task, an activity identified as being particularly costly to interrupt. Our findings once again
show the generally disruptive effects of IM, especially during fast, stimulus-driven search tasks. In addition, we
show that interruptions coming early during a search task are more likely to result in the user forgetting the
primary task goal than interruptions that arrive later on. These findings have implications for the design of user
interfaces and notification policies that minimize the disruptiveness of notifications.
Keywords: Notifications, user study, interruptions, information overload, divided attention
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