The role of reward and effort over time in task switching

Robert S. Gutzwiller, Christopher D. Wickens, Benjamin A. Clegg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


When multitasking in a demanding environment, operators strategically switch between tasks. Two influences on this multi-task management behaviour are the perceived rewards gained from performing a task, and the perceived effort a task requires in order to be completed. Proportionally, reward over effort is ‘rate of return’, expressing that either reward or effort changing over time spent performing a task, may influence multitasking behaviour. In the current experiment, two of four tasks within a multitasking paradigm provided constant or diminishing reward and required either constant or increasing effort in their performance. For on-going tasks, decreasing reward and increasing effort required both increased the probability of a task switch. The theory contributed here supports the study of multi-task management, and task switching model development. We discuss each in the context of safety-critical applications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)196-214
Number of pages19
JournalTheoretical Issues in Ergonomics Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 4 2019


  • Decision-making
  • multi-tasking
  • reward
  • task management
  • task switching
  • time on task

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Human Factors and Ergonomics


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