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

2 thoughts on “Lack of working memory to be the curse of 2008?”

  1. Dan, I may be posting on this subject sometime soon. Any good resources you know of about information overload and the decision-making process.

  2. A.E.,

    Wikipedia provides a good overview of working memory [1] as well as cognitive load [2] (what happens when you exceed your working memory).

    Baddeley’s article in Nature Reviews Neuroscience is also very good, very readable, and very short.

    Regarding decision making, DeNeys has shown how cognitive load makes you more likely to answer wrong on logical reasoning tasks. On the flip side, Dijksterhuis's work demonstrates that going with your gut may be better than thinking it out in cases where there's simply too many comparisons to fit in working memory.

    Baddeley, A. (2003). Working memory: Looking forward and backward. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 4, 929-939.
    De Neys, W. (2006). Dual processing in reasoning — Two systems but one reasoner. Psychological Science, 17(5), 428-433.
    Dijksterhuis, A., Bos M.W., Nordgren, L.F., & von Baaren, R.B. (2006). On making the right choice: The deliberation-without-attention effect. Science, 311, 1005-7.


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