Innovation Session: Thinking and Decision Making in an Age of Divided Attention

Friday, November 9, 2018: 2:30 PM-3:15 PM
Atrium - Exhibit Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Participants:  Patrick Roberts1, Shalini Misra1 and David Schwegman2, (1)Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University(2)Syracuse University

Description of Research: The implications of overload for public policy and management are worth exploring. While there is a growing body of research on the cognitive effects of information overload and divided attention, there is sparse research on its effects on problem solving processes in the public sector. Public managers need to process large amounts of information and communication from a variety of sources, be able to prune relevant information, identify misinformation, and contend with quicker delivery of constantly updated indicators, more interruptions, and greater complexity. Information overload and the digital environment could increase administrative burden, which has bene found to impede performance (Moynihan, Herd, and Harvey 2014). Citizens also have greater expectations that managers use information – if government collects citizen inputs, then citizens expect the information to be used, which creates additional burdens (Baumgartner & Jones, 2015; Hiltz and Plotnick, 2013; Plotnick & Hiltz, 2016). Numerous studies have investigated the implications of multitasking and divided attention on thinking (Klingberg, 2008; Cain & Mitroff, 2011; L. Lin, 2009; Ophir, Nass, & Wagner, 2009; Pea et al., 2012). Cognitive overload resulting from the division of attention demanded by information and communication technologies taxes individuals’ working memory, amplifying distractedness, and making it difficult for them to distinguish between relevant and irrelevant information (Cain & Mitroff, 2011; Klingberg, 2008; Lin, 2009; Ophir 2009). Experiments and field studies on the impacts of multitasking on cognitive abilities have found that divided attention limits information acquisition (Rockwell & Singleton, 2007) and leads to poorer retention and learning.

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