Effects of Cognitive Load 1 Running Head: Effects of Cognitive Load

Effects of Cognitive Load on Processing and Performance

Amy B. Adcock The University of Memphis

he divides the memory system into three separate components. Kalyuga. 1992). Several empirical studies link cognitive load effects to the components of working memory by examining the effects of presentation modality on working memory load (Goolkasian 2000. The phonological loop is responsible for processing speech-based information such as spoken language. Mayer. learning and reasoning” (Baddley. The visuospatial sketchpad processes visually depicted information such as . Mousavi. In Baddley’s (1992) theory of working memory. The purpose of this paper is to examine research studying the effects of cognitive load with an emphasis on the relationship between cognitive load and processing of information. Other tests of cognitive load theory focus on the modality of information presentation and effects of split attention without relating these effects to the components of working memory (David & Hirshman 1998. Fisher & Duffy 2000. Low & Sweller 1995).Effects of Cognitive Load 2 Effects of Cognitive Load on Processing and Performance Cognitive load is generally defined as the amount of mental resources necessary for information processing. Chandler & Sweller 1997. Duse-Anthony. Lewis & Linder 1997. Yeung 1999). Mayer & Moreno 1998. Moreno. It is speculated that the necessity for extra resources can cause a deficit in processing efficiency and social performance. High cognitive load requires the user to expend extra memory resources in order to deal with incoming information. The central executive component controls attention and oversees two slave components. Empirical tests have also investigated the role of cognitive load on types of performance (Katsikopoulos. Cognitive Load and Working Memory “The term working memory refers to a brain system that provides temporary storage and manipulation of the information necessary for such complex cognitive tasks such as language comprehension. Velayo & Quirk. Boire & Vagge 1999. Pontari & Schlenker 2000).

This increase in capacity should manifest in better retention of the materials. 1995).g. They speculated that a dual modality presentation would decrease cognitive load and therefore increase working memory capacity. Researchers interested in examining the effect of presentation modality and split attention have performed studies investigating how information processing is impacted by the amount of cognitive load on working memory components. visual-visual). these two slave components act independently of one another. These studies have sought to support the idea that information processing can occur in both slave components of working memory at the same time. (1995) investigated the presentation modality effect by comparing retention of subjects presented with information constructed using two different modalities (e. Because. Moreno. Mayer. Mayer & Moreno. Several researchers have examined effects of cognitive load on information retention based on this architecture of working memory (Goolkasian. Research on capacities of working memory components test for effects when subjects are given concurrent input in different modalities. Boire & Vagge 1999. It has been hypothesized that cognitive load issues may be related to the components of working memory. 2000.Effects of Cognitive Load 3 diagrams. Several of these studies have also seen evidence of a split attention effect.. et al. 1998. according to the theory. Mousavi. which occurs when subjects must divide attention between separate tasks and mentally integrate sources of information. Although they did . et al.g. visual-auditory) to those presented with information using the same modality (e. It is thought that this process of integration increases cognitive load thereby decreasing performance and that this effect could also be alleviated by dual modality presentations. Mousavi. presentation of simultaneous information tailored to each component may be beneficial for effective processing of information.

p 331). visual diagram and auditory explanations. In six different experiments subjects were presented with instructional information in geometry. Their findings indicated that subjects performed better when presented with a dual modality. limited working memory capacity might be effectively increased if information [that must be processed] is presented in a manner that permits it to be divided between the two systems rather than processed in one system alone” (Mousavi. some interesting findings support existing cognitive load theory. Each condition differed by modality of information regarding a geometry problem and associated diagram. Their interest here is to further support the evidence that working memory components have the ability to simultaneously process different modalities. et al. They deduced that this dual presentation did decrease the cognitive load on working memory so that the subjects were able to process both formats at the same time. others were allowed to hear a narrative explanation and look at a visual diagram. If working memory components allow us to process visual and auditory information at the same time then the necessity to mentally integrate the two different modalities should disappear. researchers also looked at effects of split attention in terms of the architecture of working memory (Mousavi.e. i. In this same study. “because both systems can be used simultaneously. 1995. . Some were presented with a visual diagram and text explanation. Retention of material was quantified by a testing phase consisting of two sets of similar problems. 1995). The split attention effect is seen when subjects must divide their attention and mentally integrate sources of information. et al.Effects of Cognitive Load 4 not directly measure cognitive load in this study. More specifically they stated. This increase in capacity to focus on and process information is the result of a lowered cognitive load.

They believe the split attention effect is caused by subjects being required to integrate and process multiple sources of information. The hypothesis for this part of the study is that the increase in working memory capacity allowed through dual presentations modes will make integration of information easier by reducing cognitive load. If information is presented in different modalities. Mayer and Moreno (1998) tested theories of cognitive load and working memory in terms of a split attention effect. Findings from the research did indicate that when subjects were required to mentally integrate sources of information. These modalities were identical to those described above. Quantifying the time taken in solving the problems was used as evidence.Effects of Cognitive Load 5 Conditions varied in terms of how much time was allowed for subjects to study the material and the presentation modalities. They felt if visual and auditory components were presented simultaneously. Therefore. In one condition. due to identical presentation modalities. Because they are being processed in two different places there is no need to mentally integrate the information. a lower cognitive load would result and retention would be higher. Retention tests showed the subjects in the diagram-narrative condition outperformed those in the diagram-text condition. subjects had more . Their study presented subjects with a multimedia explanation of the causes of lightning. no split attention is necessary. working memory is overloaded and deep processing cannot occur. They were interested in testing a dual presentation mode of instructional materials to see if components of working memory were processed separately. The other condition viewed the diagram and heard the explanation as a narrative. working memory resources were unavailable and processing time of the material suffered. subjects viewed a visual diagram and text based explanation. The authors concluded that when different sources of material are presented in the same modalities.

which interferes with reasoning capacity. Other researchers have examined the split attention effect on components of working memory and cognitive load. Reaction times and error rates were . Subjects were shown a multimedia instructional unit on auto mechanics. Some were presented with concurrent animation and narration.Effects of Cognitive Load 6 room in their cognitive systems to hold the information. because modalities are different. Her rationale for the study states that attendance to multiple sources of information causes a split attention effect. In some cases. Also. In a later paper. They concluded that learners were “more able to build referential connections between corresponding visual and verbal representations when both are held in working memory simultaneously” (p 643). She hypothesizes that participants will show best reaction times and lower error rates with pictorial material. textual or auditory. Subjects were tested for retention by several methods. Her experiments consisted of showing subjects representations of concepts in different formats. and some subjects received small or large “bites” of narration and then animation. pictorial. Conditions varied by order of presentation and narration. Goolkasian (2000) tested the how presentation format affects reasoning capabilities. They were then asked a verification question about the presented material. the load on working memory is reduced resulting in more efficient processing. formats were combined. Findings indicated that groups presented with verbal and visual information concurrently outperformed the other conditions. Mayer et al (1999) expanded on the concept of working memory load and examined how multimedia environments can be used to help people integrate verbal and visual information. participants were shown background information about the objects. mental integration is not necessary and cognitive load is reduced even more. When material is presented in formats that are easily integrated. After being shown stimuli.

An examination of the previous studies shows a potential relationship between theories of cognitive load and components of working memory. However. it appears. Although it is not directly referenced.Effects of Cognitive Load 7 measured for all participants. It may make sense to relate the findings of these studies to the limited capacities of the working memory system. This paper will now examine the results of these studies. These researchers were primarily interested in testing instructional formats to see if presentation modality and split attention had any effect on retention processes. . an examination of these studies could be interpreted as being compatible with the studies reviewed previously. pictorial representations fared best in terms of reaction times and error rates. She proposes these results could be due to a reduction in cognitive load and an increase in working memory capacity and when integration across formats is required. the experimenter did see an unexpected format effect in the last two experiments. Reaction times during problem solving were faster when participants were required to integrate information over formats. More Research on Cognitive Load The purpose here is to briefly review literature addressing recall performance and cognitive load that does not directly refer to Baddley’s theory of working memory. can be remedied by carefully presenting information in a manner that does not overload one’s working memory components through a singular format. In general. Some researchers have studied the effects of split attention and presentation modality without necessarily drawing links to Baddley’s working memory theory. Each of the tests performed attempted to draw a link between the defined components of working memory and the effects of information presentation on their capabilities. These limitations.

Instead. In one experiment. a separated but integrated glossary. Other studies have examined the role of cognitive load management and effects of split attention and expertise in the subject area. Split Attention Effect and Levels of Expertise.Effects of Cognitive Load 8 Presentation Modality Effect. Velayo and Quirk (2000) performed an experiment that attempted to determine how modality influenced recall on a paired-associate learning task. split attention is defined as the process of mental integration of elements in order to make sense of presented information. They were interested in supporting previous research showing improved recall and retention from audiovisual presentations. The purpose of the study was to see if the process of attending to two distinct sources of information might impose a high cognitive load through the split attention effect. Subjects either observed concept pairs through pictorial. Chandler & Sweller 1997. these authors do not discuss the concept of working memory components as a justification for their results. Although these results match those found in previously discussed studies. Yeung 1999). This mental integration is responsible for a large amount of cognitive load and empirical testing seeks to reduce its effect on the cognitive system (Kalyuga. They were then tested for recall of the concept pairs. Again. Subjects at varying levels of expertise were presented with vocabulary definitions. They concluded that the difficulties in encoding information in similar modalities imposed a high cognitive load on subjects and had a negative effect on recall. he attempted to measure cognitive . textual or auditory representations or were presented with mixed modalities. they relate problems associated with cognitive load and presentation modality to difficulties in encoding. Findings indicated that subjects receiving visual-auditory information outperformed other mixed modalities. Yeung examined the effects of cognitive load by presenting subjects with two vocabulary formats.

Effects of Cognitive Load 9 load by self-perception of the subjects. multiple elements should not impose a high cognitive load on expert users. He speculates that the integrated format reduces cognitive load by eliminating the need to search for meaning resulting in increased comprehension but the presence of the meanings within the text increases redundancy. They also found that the diagram and text group outperformed the text only group. This is the only mention of direct measures of cognitive load in all of the reviewed studies. For subjects with a low amount of expertise. Findings indicated that the integrated diagram and text group outperformed the other groups. This redundancy effect has a negative impact on retention of subjects with some measure of expertise in the subject area. They concluded that this integrated format is effective for low level subjects but they did see a negative redundancy effect for high-level learners. They felt that if a person is familiar with material. They tested their hypotheses by testing physically integrated information against information that must be mentally integrated by the subject. They suggest that this redundancy effect may impose a higher cognitive load on subjects with a high level of expertise and negatively impact their learning. Therefore. Findings indicated interesting aspects of the split attention effect. an integrated format that reduced the split attention effect proved more effective for comprehension. Chandler and Sweller (1997) also found that levels of expertise affect the impact of cognitive load. They wanted to examine whether multiple elements of information would impose a higher cognitive load on subjects. Kalyuga. . The research tested whether the integration of text and diagrams imposed a higher cognitive load negatively impacting retention. expressions are processed as single elements. High-level knowledge subjects performed better with a format of separated terms.

Researchers have attempted to find ways of presenting information that reduces the need for users to expend mental resources by presenting complementary modalities and by eliminating the need to mentally integrate sources of information. Findings indicated that the distraction task was sufficient to decrease performance significantly. This is partially due to the fact that most of the research is centered in the field of information processing. Lewis and Linder (1997) sought to account for the effect of pressure on task performance. Pontari & Schlenker 2000). subjects were given a distraction task of counting backward from 100 by twos in an audible voice. However. The research that will be discussed in this paper manipulated cognitive load when doing different tasks to see its effects of different types of performance. One other interesting line of research in this area has looked at cognitive load and social performance. The provision of a distraction is counted as the mechanism for adding cognitive into the performance system by diverting attentional processes from the task. when pressure to perform was increased. Lewis & Linder 1997. They all seem to indicate that a high cognitive load whether caused by differing presentation modalities or by split attention effect has a negative impact on retention of materials. The focus of this paper will now turn to empirical studies examining the effects of cognitive load on selfpresentation and performance. Cognitive Load and Other Types of Performance Several studies have looked at the role of cognitive load in performance effectiveness (Katsikopoulos. et al. the previously reviewed empirical studies have examined effects of cognitive load on retention of materials. Subjects were asked to putt a golf ball toward a target point. The general consensus in this field of research is that increased cognitive load hampers performance. performance was not significantly different from the . 2000. To add a cognitive load.Effects of Cognitive Load 10 So far.

Their findings indicated that self-presentation activities could span from mindless and automatic to those requiring high cognitive resources. Pontari and Schlenker (2000) constructed empirical tests for cognitive load and selfperformance. baseline data on route choice was provided by a . Subjects that defined themselves as introverted seemed to need the highest amount of cognitive resources for self-performance. p 1106). the attentional processes required during performance are decreased and an increase of cognitive load will have no effect. Experimenters asked subjects to role-play during an interview scenario. They were not informed of their role type until after the experiment. Cognitive load was manipulated by asking the participants in the experimental condition to recite a rehearsed eight-digit number during the interview process. Another study in the field of cognitive load looked at how participants alter decisionmaking during driving. Subjects were tested using a driving simulator. Decidedly. It was hoped this study would add to the field of traveler information. They believe that previous research often starts with the idea that limited cognitive resources make it more difficult for people to perform more than one “cognitively effortful task at once” (p 1093). “in a social vacuum. the task of changing roles from an introvert to an extrovert is a demanding one. Specifically they state. cognitive busyness logically leads to inferior performance on demanding tasks that require cognitive control” (Pontari & Schlenker 2000. Later they were assessed on recall of the number and a comparison of their self-beliefs with the role they played.Effects of Cognitive Load 11 nondistracted condition. The authors explain this by stating if this pressure is consistent throughout the mastery of the task. Their manipulations of cognitive load impaired performance but only for introverted subjects playing extroverted cognitive roles. They also feel that it would be interesting to replicate this experiment with highly trained performers to see the resulting effect.

high cognitive load also had a negative effect when subjects found the method cognitively taxing. time of travel) needed for decision making with an increase in cognitive load. Conclusion The research studies examined here were fairly consistent in their definitions of what cognitive load is and how it affects human processing and performance. They all state the resources available in human memory and how it can alter cognitive processes can define cognitive load. They speculated that drivers would have to eliminate at least one of the route attributes (range of alternative route. The authors here do state limitations to this study such as methodology. The final study. It is thought this would simplify the process of deciding on a travel route to account for resources used to deal with the increased cognitive load. Studies showed that split attention effects had the tended to increase cognitive load and decrease performance. Studies of presentation modality show how information presented in a way that incorporates coding for individual modalities are effective at reducing cognitive load and increasing retention. examining decisions . In terms of task performance. In these studies. cognitive load was studied as a result of the effects it manifests. Research examining the split attention effect also provides support of the capacities of working memory and attentional resources. it seems that the results support previous findings about the effects of cognitive load on processes. Finally. Overall though. There is also strong evidence presented linking effects of inducing cognitive load with Baddley’s theory of working memory. the effect of cognitive load on different types of performance was examined. it appeared that high cognitive load had a negative effect unless the task was rehearsed to proficiency. The findings from their study supported their speculations showing that drivers consciously decreased their task expectations when given a higher cognitive load. In social performance.Effects of Cognitive Load 12 previous experiment.

. It appears that one method of reducing this need for resources is to present information tailored to each individual component of working memory. it seems to be that none of these studies have found an effective way to actually measure cognitive load itself. Also. it is harder to perform. When a high amount of cognitive resources are necessary for a task. A review of these studies seems to provide a good amount of evidence for the limitations of the cognitive system. Another interesting point found in this research is that task proficiency and levels of expertise seem to reduce the effects of cognitive load.Effects of Cognitive Load 13 during driving also evidenced that subjects will decrease their cognitive task when imposed with a higher cognitive load. Finally. the presentation of information so that it does not have to be mentally integrated can be beneficial. Perhaps this indicates a fault in all of these studies and a potential for research in the future.

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Effects of Cognitive Load 15 Effects in Reading Comprehension Tasks with Vocabulary Definitions. The Journal of Experimental Education. 197-212. 67(3). .

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