Tag Archives: cognitive load

Lack of working memory to be the curse of 2008?

My application of the OODA loop to educational psychology has been centering on “working memory” (in other words, “general intelligence” or “attention”). More working memory lets you consciously think about more things at the same time, letting you make better decisions than you could otherwise.

Some tasks require more attention / intelligence / working memory than you have. Where possible, you should rely on your orientation (which you can sometimes tell from your gut- or fingertip- feeling) in those situations. But often you are called on to make decisions in situations where your gut feeling just isn’t good enough — and you can’t pay attention to everything you have to! This is called “cognitive load” or “information overload,” and has been the main application of working memory research in educational psychology.

Thus, I may end up with a trendy paper at the end of all of this, because, as Wired (and Slashdot) notes: information overload has been predicted as the problem of the year in 2008:

“It’s too much information. It’s too many interruptions. It’s too much lost time,” Basex chief analyst Jonathan Spira declared. “It’s always too much of a good thing.”

Information overload isn’t exactly new, but Spira said the problem has grown as technology increases societal expectations for instantaneous response. And more information available, he said, also means more time wasted looking for the right information, whether in an old e-mail or through a search engine.

Hilariously, Wired’s page on information overload is so bad at preserving working memory, I feel dumber just looking at it!:


Attention-thieving page about attention-thieving problems

The Wary Student, Part 2: Cognitive Load

The portion of cognitive ability that is required to perform some task is referred to as cognitive load (Sweller, 1988). Cognitive load, while discovered in their contemporary form in the 1980s and 1990s (Sweller & Chandler, 1991), they have been observed for generations (Miller, 1937; Sonneschein, 1982 Sweller & Chandler, 1994) in many domains (Mwangi & Sweller, 1998). People use their cognitive abilities to interact with each other. Group interaction between students “does not naturally occur, but has to be explicitly initiated and maintained by them” (Hron & Friedrich, 2003, 72) and can be cognitively expensive (Dillenboug, 1999; Knowles, Morris, Chiu, & Hong, 2001).

While cognitive load theory focuses mostly on learning (Paas & Kester, 2006), researchers have studied how it effects behavior, too. Decision making (Todd & Benbasat, 1994; Dhar, Nowlis, & Sherman, 2000; Drolet & Luce, 2004), eating (Ward & Mann, 2000), fear conditioning (Carter, Hofstotter, Tsuchiya, & Koch, 2003), infidelity (DeStano, Bartlett, Braveman, & Salovey, 2002), lying (Vrij, Semin, & Bull, 1996; Vrij, Akehurst, & Knight, 2006), marketing (Ariely, 2000, Raghubir & Krishna, 1996), problem solving (Sweller, 1988), racism (Hewstone, Hantzi, & Johnston, 1991). and risk aversion (Benjamin, Brown, & Shapiro, 2006) have been been examined through cognitive load.

Further, in a distance environment this must be done without typical social cues that clarify meaning and tell people when to start and stop talking (Friedrich, Hron, & Hesse, 2001). Educational psychologists have begun to look seriously at how to turn this around and integrate social interaction into instructional web design (Lehman, Bruning, & Horn, 2003). Technology is not a silver bullet (Bruning, 2004) and can decrease performance when used incorrectly (Cramton, 2001). Therefore, considering how cognitive load already imposes size limits on groups (Cosmides & Tooby, 2004; Dillenbourg & Schneider, 1995) and forces students to rely on stereotypes (Fiske, 2000), the intersection of educational technology and cognitive load should be of particular concern to educational psychologists.


The Wary Student, a tdaxp research project
1. Abstract
2. Cognitive Load
3. Cooperative Behavior
4. Method
5. The Experiments
6. Hypotheses
7. Main-Effect Results
8. Interaction-Effect Results
9. Discussion
10. Future Research
11. Bibliography