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Interruption principle


Principles > Interruption principle

Principle | How it works | So what?



Allow or create a familiar pattern and then interrupt it. Then use the confusion of the interruption to change minds.

How it works

We live most of our lives by following familiar patterns, often enacting rituals and playing social games without realizing that we are doing this. These help us cope and allow us to handle things without too much thinking.

When a pattern is broken, then we become confused and start to seek new patterns in order to re-establish our sense of control. In this brief period of seeking, we are open to new ideas and will grasp at straws.


Many stories fall into familiar patterns. Indeed, there are views that there are a limited number of plots across all stories.

Authors can both play to the comfort of the familiar plot and also add new interest by interrupting and diverting attention, adding diversions, new themes, twists and other plot variations.


A common purpose in therapy is to break dysfunctional patterns. A way of doing this is to allow the client to describe the pattern and then repeatedly interrupt their description with questions about what does or does not happen, thereby destroying the one-way pattern and offering alternatives at every step.

Likewise with problematic games, interrupting the actual flow of behavior can help to reframe and reorganize possibilities and actions.


In conversations when one person interrupts another, the first person has to pause in order to determine whether the interruption is legitimate. But by the time this is understood, the second person may well have moved the subject, making it difficult for the first person to interrupt in order to return to the original topic -- although this often does happen and can result in multiple interwoven conversations occurring simultaneously.

So what?

Use interruption as a device to make people pause and consider alternative options. When they get to the point of confusion and seeking alternatives, offer them yours.

See also

Interruption and Attention, Interrupting (in Conversation), Interruption (and Willpower), Interrupted Routine, Storytelling, Games, Yerkes-Dodson Law, Confusion principle, Schema, Cognitive Dissonance, Distraction principle


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