Cognitive load question

7 Jun 2006 - 1:13pm
8 years ago
8 replies
1114 reads
Robert Hoekman, Jr.
2005

I want to make sure I'm understanding cognitive load correctly, and I'm
hoping someone here can verify whether or not I'm on the right track.

Here's my understanding:

The elements that make up an interface all contribute to the cognitive load
users must wade through when using an application for the first time, and
any time something in the application changes (eg: the addition of a new
feature that takes a prominent position in the interface).

Cognitive load theory says that the learning process is most effective when
the load on short-term memory is reduced to facilitate the transfer of
information to long-term memory. In short, it's much easier to process and
retain only one or two new pieces of information at a time than it is to
process ten. When we view a Web page for the first time, we have to process
every piece of information on it to decide what's relevant to what we are
trying to accomplish. When a page is cluttered up with all sorts of
unnecessary items, short-term memory is hit hard. There's a lot to see and
learn and process. When we finally manage to pick out the important pieces,
we have very little remaining capacity to transfer that information into
long-term memory.

How far off am I with this explanation? Can someone please correct anything
I've misstated here?

Thanks very much ...

-r-

Comments

7 Jun 2006 - 2:20pm
Simon Asselbergs
2005

read http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Magical_Number_Seven%2C_Plus_or_Minus_Two

It's debatable ofcourse, but it is quite useful.

> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Robert Hoekman, Jr." <rhoekmanjr op gmail.com>
> To: discuss op ixda.org
> Subject: [IxDA Discuss] Cognitive load question
> Date: Wed, 7 Jun 2006 11:13:43 -0700
>
>
> [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted material.]
>
> I want to make sure I'm understanding cognitive load correctly, and I'm
> hoping someone here can verify whether or not I'm on the right track.
>
> Here's my understanding:
>
> The elements that make up an interface all contribute to the cognitive load
> users must wade through when using an application for the first time, and
> any time something in the application changes (eg: the addition of a new
> feature that takes a prominent position in the interface).
>
> Cognitive load theory says that the learning process is most effective when
> the load on short-term memory is reduced to facilitate the transfer of
> information to long-term memory. In short, it's much easier to process and
> retain only one or two new pieces of information at a time than it is to
> process ten. When we view a Web page for the first time, we have to process
> every piece of information on it to decide what's relevant to what we are
> trying to accomplish. When a page is cluttered up with all sorts of
> unnecessary items, short-term memory is hit hard. There's a lot to see and
> learn and process. When we finally manage to pick out the important pieces,
> we have very little remaining capacity to transfer that information into
> long-term memory.
>
> How far off am I with this explanation? Can someone please correct anything
> I've misstated here?
>
> Thanks very much ...
>
> -r-
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss op ixda.org
> List Guidelines ............ http://listguide.ixda.org/
> List Help .................. http://listhelp.ixda.org/
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>

Groetjes,

Simon

--
_______________________________________________

Search for businesses by name, location, or phone number. -Lycos Yellow Pages

http://r.lycos.com/r/yp_emailfooter/http://yellowpages.lycos.com/default.asp?SRC=lycos10

7 Jun 2006 - 2:25pm
ldebett
2004

Hi Robert,

Cognitive load is more directly related to having to use your brain to
transfer information from one place to the next. A static web page/interface
really doesn't affect cognitive load very much. Instead, cognitive load can
be affected by the places during interaction where you have to copy, say, a
product number from one page and insert it into a text box on another.
Cognitive load theory comes into play when you use your memory for that
transfer instead of the copy/paste function in the browser.

You can also find more info on Miller's magic number 7 (+/- 2) for recall in
short term memory and how he proposed chunking info. The application of this
theory and cognitive load into web design is somewhat misplaced. see also:
http://www.ddj.com/184412300 and this quote: "He wasn't studying how many
items humans can perceive, which he admits can be thousands. Web site
navigation, however, is generally not concerned with short-term memory.
Visitors are rarely required to memorize items in a menu. In fact, many site
navigations are presented on all pages at all times for continuous
reference. Immediate memory doesn't play a significant role."

What you're talking about "processing a web page" is more visual load than
cognitive and has little to do with memory but more to do with preattentive
processing and our ability to visually decipher relationships between items
(groups) or identifying important/not important information.

Cheers,
Lisa

On 6/7/06, Robert Hoekman, Jr. <rhoekmanjr at gmail.com> wrote:
>
> [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted
> material.]
>
> I want to make sure I'm understanding cognitive load correctly, and I'm
> hoping someone here can verify whether or not I'm on the right track.
>
> Here's my understanding:
>
> The elements that make up an interface all contribute to the cognitive
> load
> users must wade through when using an application for the first time, and
> any time something in the application changes (eg: the addition of a new
> feature that takes a prominent position in the interface).
>
> Cognitive load theory says that the learning process is most effective
> when
> the load on short-term memory is reduced to facilitate the transfer of
> information to long-term memory. In short, it's much easier to process and
> retain only one or two new pieces of information at a time than it is to
> process ten. When we view a Web page for the first time, we have to
> process
> every piece of information on it to decide what's relevant to what we are
> trying to accomplish. When a page is cluttered up with all sorts of
> unnecessary items, short-term memory is hit hard. There's a lot to see and
>
> learn and process. When we finally manage to pick out the important
> pieces,
> we have very little remaining capacity to transfer that information into
> long-term memory.
>
> How far off am I with this explanation? Can someone please correct
> anything
> I've misstated here?
>
> Thanks very much ...
>
> -r-

7 Jun 2006 - 3:01pm
Jeff Howard
2004

Steve Krug argues that this isn't what happens when people see a new page.
He has a good diagram in Don't Make Me Think (pg 21) that shows his
assertion of how people dart around a web page. I've never used
eye-tracking software, but I do know that there's too much information in
our daily lives to make optimal decisions. Instead, we satisfice (from
Herbert Simon) by picking the first halfway decent option we come across
that could meet our goal.

Even if we do spend more time, we can often use the idea of chunking (also
from Simon) to group similar elements, so as to be able to more quickly
process our options. For instance, navigation bar, title bar,
advertisement bar etc... Each of those things might have dozens of
discrete bits of information, but we don't need to process them because we
recognize the overall "chunk" as something that doesn't apply to our task.

> When we view a Web page for the first time, we have to process
> every piece of information on it to decide what's relevant to what
> we are trying to accomplish. When a page is cluttered up with all
> sorts of unnecessary items, short-term memory is hit hard.
> There's a lot to see and learn and process.

7 Jun 2006 - 4:51pm
Robert Hoekman, Jr.
2005

Thanks for the clarification. I knew I was somehow getting multiple concepts
mixed up. I'm definitely more interested in preattentive processing.

What I'm researching in particular is how clutter affects the usability of a
page, in general. Any insights?

-r-

On 6/7/06, Lisa deBettencourt <ldebett at gmail.com> wrote:
>
> [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted
> material.]
>
> Hi Robert,
>
> Cognitive load is more directly related to having to use your brain to
> transfer information from one place to the next. A static web
> page/interface
> really doesn't affect cognitive load very much. Instead, cognitive load
> can
> be affected by the places during interaction where you have to copy, say,
> a
> product number from one page and insert it into a text box on another.
> Cognitive load theory comes into play when you use your memory for that
> transfer instead of the copy/paste function in the browser.
>
> You can also find more info on Miller's magic number 7 (+/- 2) for recall
> in
> short term memory and how he proposed chunking info. The application of
> this
> theory and cognitive load into web design is somewhat misplaced. see also:
> http://www.ddj.com/184412300 and this quote: "He wasn't studying how many
> items humans can perceive, which he admits can be thousands. Web site
> navigation, however, is generally not concerned with short-term memory.
> Visitors are rarely required to memorize items in a menu. In fact, many
> site
> navigations are presented on all pages at all times for continuous
> reference. Immediate memory doesn't play a significant role."
>
> What you're talking about "processing a web page" is more visual load than
> cognitive and has little to do with memory but more to do with
> preattentive
> processing and our ability to visually decipher relationships between
> items
> (groups) or identifying important/not important information.
>
> Cheers,
> Lisa
>
>
> On 6/7/06, Robert Hoekman, Jr. <rhoekmanjr at gmail.com> wrote:
> >
> > [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted
> > material.]
> >
> > I want to make sure I'm understanding cognitive load correctly, and I'm
> > hoping someone here can verify whether or not I'm on the right track.
> >
> > Here's my understanding:
> >
> > The elements that make up an interface all contribute to the cognitive
> > load
> > users must wade through when using an application for the first time,
> and
> > any time something in the application changes (eg: the addition of a new
> > feature that takes a prominent position in the interface).
> >
> > Cognitive load theory says that the learning process is most effective
> > when
> > the load on short-term memory is reduced to facilitate the transfer of
> > information to long-term memory. In short, it's much easier to process
> and
> > retain only one or two new pieces of information at a time than it is to
> > process ten. When we view a Web page for the first time, we have to
> > process
> > every piece of information on it to decide what's relevant to what we
> are
> > trying to accomplish. When a page is cluttered up with all sorts of
> > unnecessary items, short-term memory is hit hard. There's a lot to see
> and
> >
> > learn and process. When we finally manage to pick out the important
> > pieces,
> > we have very little remaining capacity to transfer that information into
> > long-term memory.
> >
> > How far off am I with this explanation? Can someone please correct
> > anything
> > I've misstated here?
> >
> > Thanks very much ...
> >
> > -r-
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> List Guidelines ............ http://listguide.ixda.org/
> List Help .................. http://listhelp.ixda.org/
> (Un)Subscription Options ... http://subscription-options.ixda.org/
> Announcements List ......... http://subscribe-announce.ixda.org/
> Questions .................. lists at ixda.org
> Home ....................... http://ixda.org/
> Resource Library ........... http://resources.ixda.org
>

7 Jun 2006 - 4:12pm
Bruce Esrig
2006

Perhaps this is not an industry-standard way of defining the term, but
after reading the preceding messages on this thread, I would say ...

My intuition about "cognitive load" is based on what a user must learn
in order to formulate and reach a goal at a web site.

The elements of the cognitive load of purposeful action at a web site are:
- understanding the categories (at two levels, content and controls) used
at the site
- formulating a goal in terms of the categories
- understanding enough of the decision tree to chart a path to the goal
- understanding enough of the site content and controls to traverse that path
- understanding the content and controls at the destination

If the user is in a highly exploratory mode, "formulating a goal" could
happen quite late,
or could be rather spontaneous.

Best wishes,

Bruce Esrig

At 03:25 PM 6/7/2006, Lisa deBettencourt wrote:>
cognitive load can
be affected by the places during interaction where you have to copy, say, a
product number from one page and insert it into a text box on another.
Cognitive load theory comes into play when you use your memory for that
transfer instead of the copy/paste function in the browser.

... " ... many site navigations are presented on all pages at all times for
continuous
reference. Immediate memory doesn't play a significant role."

7 Jun 2006 - 8:08pm
ldebett
2004

I wrote a paper on this topic a few years ago and I put some references from
my bibliography and some relevant links at the bottom of this email.

So, bottom line, clutter decreases usability. We can say this is "common
sense" but you want to know why. Vision is a rapid parallel processor that
can recognize patterns, extract features, orientation, color, texture and
movement. It is especially adept at recognizing change. The cog sci world
says that this happens "preattentively" or prior to us mentally attending to
something. "Clutter" - or disorganization - gets in our way of finding and
recognizing patterns in a sea of data. It's a signal to noise ratio issue.
If the "noise" (poor design) is too high, we can't see any "signal"
(information). And here's a very important link between preattentive
processing and design: the Gestalt Theory and Gestalt Laws of Perceptual
Grouping (similarity, proximity, good continuation, symmetry and
periodicity). See also:
http://cns-alumni.bu.edu/~slehar/webstuff/pcave/gestalt_laws.html.

The basic premise in Gestalt Theory is that we infer relationships about and
between things when they are close to each other, have similar shapes and/or
sizes, are of like or similar color, etc. Translate that to web design and a
very simple example is: group similar items together and separate the group
from the rest of a page so users will know that the group is different from
the rest of the page. Subgroup links within the group to show similarity
between items. Use negative space to communicate different subgroups. Like a
navigation panel. A group of buttons of the same visual style close together
will be seen to have a relationship to each other or to another object they
are close to; say like the buttons below this text box I'm typing in in
gmail so I can infer that they have something to do with some actions I
perform on the email as opposed to actions I perform on my inbox.

Now, going back to the clutter topic - or the opposite - organization: a
well organized design/page/widget allows us to quickly parse it visually and
preattentively (as opposed to reading it serially) and facilitates our
ability to infer information about groups and objects (text, pictures,
buttons, links, etc.). This aids in our ability to figure out how to make
use of the design/page/widget and learn from/about it.

I hope that helps.

~Lisa

Healey, C. G., Booth., K. S. & Enns, J. T. (July, 1995). Visualizing
Real-Time Multivariate Data Using Preattentive Processing. ACM Transactions
on Modeling and Computer Simulation. 5(3), 190-221.

Crapo, A.W., Waisel, L. B., Wallace, W. A. & Willemain, T. R. (2000).
Visualization and the Process of Modeling: a cognitive-theoretic view.
Communications of the ACM. 5(8).

Lohse, J. (1991). A Cognitive Model for the Perception and Understanding of
Graphs. Communications of the ACM. 3(4), 137-144.

http://www.csc.ncsu.edu/faculty/healey/PP/

http://www-static.cc.gatech.edu/~jimmyd/summaries/triesman1992.html

On 6/7/06, Robert Hoekman, Jr. <rhoekmanjr at gmail.com> wrote:
>
> [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted
> material.]
>
> Thanks for the clarification. I knew I was somehow getting multiple
> concepts
> mixed up. I'm definitely more interested in preattentive processing.
>
> What I'm researching in particular is how clutter affects the usability of
> a
> page, in general. Any insights?
>
> -r-

7 Jun 2006 - 9:44pm
Robert Hoekman, Jr.
2005

Yup - that helps a lot. Looks like I've got some reading to do. Thanks
very much.

-r-

On 6/7/06, Lisa deBettencourt <ldebett at gmail.com> wrote:
> I wrote a paper on this topic a few years ago and I put some references from
> my bibliography and some relevant links at the bottom of this email.
>
> So, bottom line, clutter decreases usability. We can say this is "common
> sense" but you want to know why. Vision is a rapid parallel processor that
> can recognize patterns, extract features, orientation, color, texture and
> movement. It is especially adept at recognizing change. The cog sci world
> says that this happens "preattentively" or prior to us mentally attending to
> something. "Clutter" - or disorganization - gets in our way of finding and
> recognizing patterns in a sea of data. It's a signal to noise ratio issue.
> If the "noise" (poor design) is too high, we can't see any "signal"
> (information). And here's a very important link between preattentive
> processing and design: the Gestalt Theory and Gestalt Laws of Perceptual
> Grouping (similarity, proximity, good continuation, symmetry and
> periodicity). See also:
> http://cns-alumni.bu.edu/~slehar/webstuff/pcave/gestalt_laws.html.
>
>
> The basic premise in Gestalt Theory is that we infer relationships about
> and between things when they are close to each other, have similar shapes
> and/or sizes, are of like or similar color, etc. Translate that to web
> design and a very simple example is: group similar items together and
> separate the group from the rest of a page so users will know that the group
> is different from the rest of the page. Subgroup links within the group to
> show similarity between items. Use negative space to communicate different
> subgroups. Like a navigation panel. A group of buttons of the same visual
> style close together will be seen to have a relationship to each other or to
> another object they are close to; say like the buttons below this text box
> I'm typing in in gmail so I can infer that they have something to do with
> some actions I perform on the email as opposed to actions I perform on my
> inbox.
>
> Now, going back to the clutter topic - or the opposite - organization: a
> well organized design/page/widget allows us to quickly parse it visually and
> preattentively (as opposed to reading it serially) and facilitates our
> ability to infer information about groups and objects (text, pictures,
> buttons, links, etc.). This aids in our ability to figure out how to make
> use of the design/page/widget and learn from/about it.
>
> I hope that helps.
>
> ~Lisa
>
> Healey, C. G., Booth., K. S. & Enns, J. T. (July, 1995). Visualizing
> Real-Time Multivariate Data Using Preattentive Processing. ACM Transactions
> on Modeling and Computer Simulation. 5(3), 190-221.
>
> Crapo, A.W., Waisel, L. B., Wallace, W. A. & Willemain, T. R. (2000).
> Visualization and the Process of Modeling: a cognitive-theoretic view.
> Communications of the ACM. 5(8).
>
> Lohse, J. (1991). A Cognitive Model for the Perception and Understanding of
> Graphs. Communications of the ACM. 3(4), 137-144.
>
> http://www.csc.ncsu.edu/faculty/healey/PP/
>
> http://www-static.cc.gatech.edu/~jimmyd/summaries/triesman1992.html
>
>
> On 6/7/06, Robert Hoekman, Jr. <rhoekmanjr at gmail.com> wrote:
> >
> [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted material.]
>
> Thanks for the clarification. I knew I was somehow getting multiple concepts
> mixed up. I'm definitely more interested in preattentive processing.
>
> What I'm researching in particular is how clutter affects the usability of a
> page, in general. Any insights?
>
> -r-
>
>

11 Jun 2006 - 10:07pm
Oleh Kovalchuke
2006

Bruce Esrig on decision making process:

> My intuition about "cognitive load" is based on what a user must learn
> in order to formulate and reach a goal at a web site.... [below]

The decision making is actually simpler: we recognize one helpful-looking
pattern and pursue it until it proves to be wrong. If it is wrong we retract
and look for another helpful-looking pattern. Very much in line with
satisficing described by Krug's book and quoted by Jeff Howard.

Well researched book on decision making is "Sources of Power. How people
make decisions" by Gary Klein.

To guide decisions chunking and playing to stereotypes is the way to go.

--
Oleh Kovalchuke
Interaction Design is Design of Time
http://www.tangospring.com/IxDtopicWhatIsInteractionDesign.htm

On 6/7/06, Bruce Esrig <esrig-ia at esrig.com> wrote:
> [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted
material.]
>
> Perhaps this is not an industry-standard way of defining the term, but
> after reading the preceding messages on this thread, I would say ...
>
> My intuition about "cognitive load" is based on what a user must learn
> in order to formulate and reach a goal at a web site.
>
> The elements of the cognitive load of purposeful action at a web site are:
> - understanding the categories (at two levels, content and controls) used
> at the site
> - formulating a goal in terms of the categories
> - understanding enough of the decision tree to chart a path to the goal
> - understanding enough of the site content and controls to traverse that
path
> - understanding the content and controls at the destination
>
> If the user is in a highly exploratory mode, "formulating a goal" could
> happen quite late,
> or could be rather spontaneous.
>
> Best wishes,
>
> Bruce Esrig
>
> At 03:25 PM 6/7/2006, Lisa deBettencourt wrote:>
> cognitive load can
> be affected by the places during interaction where you have to copy, say,
a
> product number from one page and insert it into a text box on another.
> Cognitive load theory comes into play when you use your memory for that
> transfer instead of the copy/paste function in the browser.
>
> ... " ... many site navigations are presented on all pages at all times
for
> continuous
> reference. Immediate memory doesn't play a significant role."
>
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> List Guidelines ............ http://listguide.ixda.org/
> List Help .................. http://listhelp.ixda.org/
> (Un)Subscription Options ... http://subscription-options.ixda.org/
> Announcements List ......... http://subscribe-announce.ixda.org/
> Questions .................. lists at ixda.org
> Home ....................... http://ixda.org/
> Resource Library ........... http://resources.ixda.org
>

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