What's Left Undone Lingers On

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Science  19 Nov 2010:
Vol. 330, Issue 6007, pp. 1023
DOI: 10.1126/science.330.6007.1023-a

Multitasking has a long history in computer operating systems, from the 1960s when programs were executed in batches on mainframes to refinements implemented on personal computers a quarter century ago. Swapping resources from one task to another is easy if they are independent, but doing so efficiently when resources need to be shared is more challenging. Fortunately, computers don't seem to experience the kind of interference described by Masicampo and Baumeister. They demonstrate that humans suffer from a hangover due to unfulfilled goals: When people were primed to strive for honesty as a goal and then required to write about an episode in which they had acted dishonestly, the induced sense of incompleteness negatively affected their ability to solve anagrams, a task that relies on fluid intelligence. Neither the prime alone nor the recounting of the episode sufficed, and people who had been primed but then wrote about someone else's dishonesty were not similarly afflicted. Furthermore, the unfulfilled goal, though detectable with implicit measures of activation, did not rise to the level of reportable or conscious awareness.

J. Exp. Soc. Psychol. 10.1016/j.jesp.2010.10.011 (2010).

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