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08-07-2017 | Original Article | Uitgave 6/2018

Psychological Research 6/2018

Barriers to success: physical separation optimizes event-file retrieval in shared workspaces

Psychological Research > Uitgave 6/2018
Bibiana Klempova, Roman Liepelt
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The online version of this article (doi:10.​1007/​s00426-017-0886-2) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.


Sharing tasks with other persons can simplify our work and life, but seeing and hearing other people's actions may also be very distracting. The joint Simon effect (JSE) is a standard measure of referential response coding when two persons share a Simon task. Sequential modulations of the joint Simon effect (smJSE) are interpreted as a measure of event-file processing containing stimulus information, response information and information about the just relevant control-state active in a given social situation. This study tested effects of physical (Experiment 1) and virtual (Experiment 2) separation of shared workspaces on referential coding and event-file processing using a joint Simon task. In Experiment 1, participants performed this task in individual (go–nogo), joint and standard Simon task conditions with and without a transparent curtain (physical separation) placed along the imagined vertical midline of the monitor. In Experiment 2, participants performed the same tasks with and without receiving background music (virtual separation). For response times, physical separation enhanced event-file retrieval indicated by an enlarged smJSE in the joint Simon task with curtain than without curtain (Experiment1), but did not change referential response coding. In line with this, we also found evidence for enhanced event-file processing through physical separation in the joint Simon task for error rates. Virtual separation did neither impact event-file processing, nor referential coding, but generally slowed down response times in the joint Simon task. For errors, virtual separation hampered event-file processing in the joint Simon task. For the cognitively more demanding standard two-choice Simon task, we found music to have a degrading effect on event-file retrieval for response times. Our findings suggest that adding a physical separation optimizes event-file processing in shared workspaces, while music seems to lead to a more relaxed task processing mode under shared task conditions. In addition, music had an interfering impact on joint error processing and more generally when dealing with a more complex task in isolation.

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