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Effects of concurrent cognitive task loading on warning compliance behavior

This research examined whether increased cognitive task loading decreases warning compliance behavior. Participants performed a task in which they installed an external disk drive to a computer. Inside the accompanying owner’s manual were a set of specific procedures that were to be followed during the installation to avoid damaging the equipment (i.e., to turn off the computer, to touch the computer’s rear metal connector to discharge static electricity, and to eject a transport disk from the disk drive). Concurrent with this task, participants in the low and high task load conditions had to speak the answers to a series of single-digit or double-digit addition problems that were presented by a tape player. A control condition lacked the addition task. The results showed reduced compliance to the discharge static electricity instruction in the high load condition compared to the no load condition. The low load condition produced intermediate compliance, but was not significantly different from the other two conditions with one exception: the high load condition produced significantly lower compliance for the discharge static electricity instruction than the low load condition. These results suggest that warning effectiveness can be reduced when the mental resources necessary to carry out compliance are being absorbed by other concurrently performed tasks. Implications for further research on task loading and warning compliance are described.

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