Interrupting Interruptions: A Digital Experiment on Social Media and Performance

40 Pages Posted: 7 Dec 2018 Last revised: 11 Dec 2018

See all articles by Veronica Marotta

Veronica Marotta

University of Minnesota - Twin Cities - Carlson School of Management

Alessandro Acquisti

Carnegie Mellon University - H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management

Date Written: August 13, 2018

Abstract

Interruptions have complex effects on individual productivity. They can alleviate fatigue and distress, but also interfere with a person's focus and attention. In recent years, a number of strategies have been adopted by organizations and individuals to curtail the potential negative effects of encroaching digital interruptions. We investigate how the use of such strategies (specifically, a digital app that curtails certain digital interruptions) affects individuals' performance in a randomized field experiment. We leverage the economic incentives of online workers on a crowd-sourcing platform, capturing their performance across a variety of tasks. We measure the impact of two alternative treatments relative to a control group: i) an exogenous treatment, in which the app is instrumented to block access for fixed periods of time to selected online services (some popular social media sites); ii) an endogenous treatment, in which participants determine whether to and to what extent use the app to block access to online services. In the exogenous condition, curtailing access to certain online services significantly increased individuals' performance: participants completed about 35% more tasks (per hour), resulting in an increase in earnings per hour of about 26%. We find evidence of heterogeneous effects of the treatment: the performance improvement due to the app is lower for heavy social media users; those same participants were more likely to experience an increase in feelings of frustrations and technological anxiety during the study, associated with the imposed blockage of social media sites. In the endogenous condition, only about 36% of participants used the app for a meaningful amount of time. As such, while, on average, that group did not experience a significant change in performance, we find evidence of a positive effect on participants who did use the app, increasing in the number of minutes of app usage.

Keywords: Productivity app, social media interruptions, performance

Suggested Citation

Marotta, Veronica and Acquisti, Alessandro, Interrupting Interruptions: A Digital Experiment on Social Media and Performance (August 13, 2018). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3283951 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3283951

Veronica Marotta (Contact Author)

University of Minnesota - Twin Cities - Carlson School of Management ( email )

19th Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55455
United States

Alessandro Acquisti

Carnegie Mellon University - H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management ( email )

Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3890
United States
412-268-9853 (Phone)
412-268-5339 (Fax)

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