Your expertise may raise risk of mistakes when interrupted

New York: If you are highly skilled at your workplace, chances are that your expertise can prove to be a risk factor for procedural errors in environments with a high incidence of task interruption, researchers say.

The study conducted by researchers in the Michigan State University showed that experienced workers are generally faster at performing procedural tasks.

It means their actions are more closely spaced in time and thus more confusable when they attempt to recall where to resume a task after being interrupted.

As steps of a procedure are performed more quickly, memory for past performance becomes less accurate, increasing the rate of skipped or repeated steps after an interruption.

“The faster things happen, the worse we tend to remember them,” said lead investigator Erik Altmann from Michigan State University in the US.

For example, a nurse is interrupted while preparing to give a dose of medication and then must remember whether he or she administered the dose.

“The more experienced nurse will remember less accurate than a less-practiced nurse, if the former performs the steps involved in administering medication more quickly,” Altmann added.

For the experiment, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 224 people performed two sessions of a computer-based procedural task on separate days.

Participants were interrupted randomly by a simple typing task, after which they had to remember the last step they performed to select the correct step to perform next.

In the second session, people became faster, and on most measures, more accurate. After interruptions, however, they became less accurate, making more errors by resuming the task at the wrong spot.

Thus, experts who perform a task quickly and accurately need to figure out strategies to keep their place in a task, Altmann suggested.