Effect of Interruptions on Decision Making: Implications for Mediation?

An Interruption

By: Donald L. Swanson

“Interruptions increase risk taking by reducing apprehension.”

From “The Effect of an Interruption on Risk Decisions” [Fn. 1].

Seven studies by three professors focus on the effect of a brief interruption that occurs when a person is confronted by the need to make a risky financial decision.

My point in this article is to ask these questions:

Are the results of the studies relevant to mediation?
How might these results be utilized by a mediator?

Studies’ Conclusion

Here’s what the studies conclude:

  • The end of the interruption creates a repeat exposure to the decision stimuli;
  • This re-exposure reduces the novelty of the decision stimuli; and
  • The reduced novelty, in turn, (i) reduces the decision maker’s apprehension, and (ii) increases the amount of risk the decision maker is willing to take.

Types of Interruptions

Here are three types of interruptions considered in the studies.

1. Information Suspension. This type of interruption pauses the delivery of a task’s information before full revelation. It sparks curiosity about and increases processing of the remaining content when resumed.

2. Premature Termination. This type of interruption terminates delivery of information before the decision is made—there is no ability to get further information. This type heightens the desire to return to the interrupted task, increases a focus on information relevant to the interrupted task, and prompts an unsatisfied need for closure.

3. Decision Suspension. This type of interruption occurs after the delivery of information is complete but before a decision is formulated—no new information is introduced after the interruption ends.

Among these three types, the first and second affect decision outcomes. The third (decision suspension) does not: that’s because no new information can be received after the interruption to affect the decision.

Effect on Risk Decisions

The following are observations by the three professors from their seven studies.

Here’s how interruptions works:

  • When a person is first exposed to decision information, that person reviews the information, deliberates, and make a decision;
  • When an interruption occurs, the responses from the information processing stage are transferred into the next stages (i.e., deliberation and choice);
  • An interruption changes things by introducing a second instance of exposure to the decision information; and
  • The decision maker then reviews the information, again, for making a decision.

Put another way, an interruption expands the decision making process from three steps (exposure-processing-choice) to six steps (initial exposure-processing-interruption-second exposure-reprocessing-choice).

During re-exposure to decision stimuli, after interruption, the stimuli no longer appears brand new and evokes less apprehension than before.

Research reveals the following about the effect of novel stimulus and interruption:

  • First exposure to a novel stimulus creates apprehension;
  • This is so, even when the stimulus content is neutral; but
  • If no negative consequence occurs from the first exposure, a second exposure creates significantly less apprehension.

Here’s another effect of interruption:

  • The intensity of response to an emotionally-charged stimuli declines more rapidly when the exposure is interrupted versus when it continues.

Here are factors that affect an interruption’s influence on risk taking.

  1. Novel risks become less subjectively novel after an interruption, which leads to less apprehension and greater risk taking;
  2. Risky decisions on routine or highly familiar subjects are less-affected by interruptions because of the low levels of novelty involved (e.g., risks taken by professional gamblers and stock traders); and
  3. Impulsive decision-making is unaffected by interruptions.

The basic findings of the study are these:

  • An interruption can increase risk taking across a wide range of financial risk contexts; and
  • That’s because the interruption reduces the novelty of the decision stimuli.


The results of the seven studies by the three professors are fascinating.

What relevance might the studies’ findings have on mediation and on mediator strategies?


Footnote 1. The Effect of an Interruption on Risk Decisions is a report of finding on seven studies conducted by professors (i) Daniella Kupor of Boston University, (ii) On Amir of University of California San Diego, and (iii) Wndy Liu of University of California San Diego. It is published in the Journal of Consumer Research, 44(6): 1205-1219 (April 2018).

** If you find this article of value, please feel free to share. If you’d like to discuss, let me know.


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  1. Donald L. Swanson | Attorney
    Koley Jessen P.C., L.L.O. | 1125 S. 103rd St., Suite 800 | Omaha, NE 68124
    402.343.3726 Direct | 402.390.9005 Fax
    don.swanson@koleyjessen.com | http://www.koleyjessen.com | Twitter | Blog: mediatbankry


    CONFIDENTIALITY: This message (including any attachment) is confidential. It may also be privileged or otherwise protected by work-product immunity or other legal rules. If you have received it by mistake, please delete it from your system; you may not copy or disclose its contents to anyone.


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