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Becker, Linda; Kaltenegger, Helena C.; Nowak, Dennis ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-7871-8686; Weigl, Matthias ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-2408-1725 and Rohleder, Nicolas (2022): Physiological stress in response to multitasking and work interruptions: Study protocol.
In: PLOS One 17(2), e0263785

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Background The biopsychological response patterns to digital stress have been sparsely investigated so far. Important potential stressors in modern working environments due to increased digitalization are multitasking and work interruptions. In this study protocol, we present a protocol for a laboratory experiment, in which we will investigate the biopsychological stress response patterns to multitasking and work interruptions. Methods In total, N= 192 healthy, adult participants will be assigned to six experimental conditions in a randomized order (one single-task, three dual-task (two in parallel and one as interruption), one multitasking, and one passive control condition). Salivary alpha-amylase as well as heart rate as markers for Sympathetic Nervous System Activity, heart rate variability as measure for Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) activity, and cortisol as measure for activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis will be assessed at six time points throughout the experimental session. Furthermore, inflammatory markers (i.e., IL-6, C-reactive protein (CRP), and secretory immunoglobulin-A) will be assessed before and after the task as well as 24 hours after it (IL-6 and CRP only). Main outcomes will be the time course of these physiological stress markers. Reactivity of these measures will be compared between the experimental conditions (dual-tasking, work interruptions, and multitasking) with the control conditions (single-tasking and passive control). Discussion With this study protocol, we present a comprehensive experiment, which will enable an extensive investigation of physiological stress-responses to multitasking and work interruptions. Our planned study will contribute to a better understanding of physiological response patterns to modern (digital) stressors. Potential risks and limitations are discussed. The findings will have important implications, especially in the context of digital health in modern working and living environments.

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