The extent to which memory for information content is reliable, trustworthy, and accurate is crucial in the information age. Being forced to divert attention to interrupting messages is common, however, and can cause memory loss. The memory effects of interrupting messages were investigated in three experiments. In Experiment 1, attending to an interrupting message decreased memory accuracy. Experiment 2, where four interrupting messages were used, replicated this result. In Experiment 3, an interrupting message was shown to be most disturbing when it was semantically very close to the main message. Drawing from a theory of long-term working memory it is argued that interrupting messages can both disrupt the active semantic elaboration of content during encoding and cause semantic interference upon retrieval. Properties of the interrupting message affect the extent and type of errors in remembering. Design implications are discussed.
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