The Multitasking Mind



320 pages | PDF | 1,9 MB


Multitasking is all around us: the office worker interrupted by a phone call, the teenager texting while driving, the salesperson chatting while entering an order. When multitasking, the mind juggles all the many tasks we're doing this second, this hour, this week, and tries to perform them together-sometimes with great ease, sometimes with great difficulty. We don't often stop to think about how exactly we accomplish these feats of multitasking great and small. How do we switch from one task to another? What types of multitasking are disruptive, and when are they most disruptive? And ultimately, how can we take advantage of the benefits of multitasking while alleviating its negative effects in our daily lives?

This book presents the theory of threaded cognition, a theory that aims to explain the multitasking mind. The theory states that multitasking behavior can be expressed as cognitive threads-independent streams of thought that weave through the mind's processing resources to produce multitasking behavior, and sometimes experience conflicts to produce multitasking interference. Grounded in the ACT-R cognitive architecture, threaded cognition incorporates computational representations and mechanisms used to simulate and predict multitasking behavior and performance.

The book describes the implications of threaded cognition theory across three traditionally disparate domains: concurrent multitasking (doing multiple tasks at once), sequential multitasking (interrupting and resuming tasks), and multitask skill acquisition (learning and practicing multiple tasks). The work stresses the importance of unifying basic and applied research by alternating between in-depth descriptions of basic research phenomena and broader treatments of phenomena in applied domains, such as driver distraction and human-computer interaction. The book also includes practical guidelines for designers of interactive systems intended for multitasking contexts.

With this book and their theory of threaded cognition, Salvucci and Taatgen have brought the promise of cognitive architectures to a new high point. In a highly accessible way, they show how one can take theories that have strong laboratory support and use them to make novel predictions about important real-world applications. One can read the book and go away with an understanding of how to better deal with the multitasking demands of everyday life.
--John Anderson, Carnegie Mellon University

How people do multiple tasks together, like driving and talking on the telephone, has been maddeningly difficult to understand and to engineer. Salvucci and Taatgen have cracked the problem with their theory of threaded cognition, yielding great insights for design. This book is a breakthrough.
--Stuart Card, Palo Alto Research Center

The Multitasking Mind is an excellent and timely review of the last decades of work on what we currently understand about multitasking, interruptions, task resumption and the effects of all of this on task performance. What really stands out about this book is its attempt to provide an overarching, unifying theory to help guide researchers and practitioners in an approachable wayEL I believe this book is an important checkpoint in our understanding of human cognitive multitasking and is a must-read for any researcher or designer faced with the task of designing for human interruptions, whatever the task.
--Mary Czerwinski, Microsoft

[The] writing is both engaging and of high scientific qualityEL The scientist, the engineer, and the intelligent layperson will all find this book to be a compelling read.
-- Christopher Wickens

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