The increasing use of computer-mediated communication (CMC) by knowledge workers in problem solving environments intensifies the need for empirical evidence on the effects of interruption on users’ problem-solving performance. Email and instant messaging are common desktop and mobile applications that frequently seek the user’s attention via audible and visual cues. This study is concerned with whether the effects of immediate interruptions are more disruptive than negotiated interruptions to users’ problem-solving performance. It recognizes the importance of task complexity in explaining the relationship between the effects of interruption type and users’ performance in the context of problem-solving. An experiment is used to capture how user interruptions in the form of instant messages that demand users’ immediate response and e-mail messages that allow users to negotiate a delayed response could affect users’ problem-solving performance across simple and complex tasks. Results indicate task complexity negatively moderates the effects between immediate and negotiated types of interruptions from CMC on users’ problem-solving performance. Interruptions that demand users’ immediate response were found to degrade users’ efficiency and accuracy for complex tasks, compared to interruptions that allow users to negotiate a delayed response, while the effects between both types of interruptions were not significantly different for simple tasks.


interruptions, task complexity, decision accuracy, computer mediated communication


ISBN: [978-1-86435-644-1]; Full paper