#psychology #fatigue #brain


The human processing capacity is determined by its cognitive capacity (and associated cognitive load[1]) and working memory[2].

Cognitive load refers to the intensity of reflection and usage of working memory used to keep track and accomplish concurrent tasks. The more the multi-tasking and the higher the complexity and ambiguity, the higher the cognitive load.

Working memory is the concept that people can keep track of 7±2 chunks at the same time[2] ; these being words, letters, or numbers. Chunks can be learned with training, eg. People can recall more than 7 numbers in a row by learning numbers > 10 as chunks.

Both concepts complete one another, and help understanding the limits of the human processing capacity, and notably the importance of focus and systemic organization[8].

Expertise is decreasing the cognitive load required to accomplish a corresponding task[3]. Individuals also have differing capacities. Socioeconomic status is also impacting the cognitive capacity[4]. Presence of an audience alters the capacity as well[5].

Focus being a limited resource, high cognitive load is

It is very similar to a CPU and register memory in concept.

Protect cognitive load, say no, focus on one thing, reduce wip.


[8]: Getting things done helps reducing cognitive load by offloading the tracking of what is next to the system, and help focus on what is current.

Backprocess is a part of the cognitive load. A lot of backprocess reduces the available cognitive bandwidth, and reciprocally: noticing the signs of high cognitive load is a sign of backprocess.

Biases are exacerbated by high cognitive load.

Collaboration can increase cognitive load, and is linked to the audience effect[5].

Shielding the team is important to prevent increase of cognitive load through unnecessary collaboration

High level of WIP increases cognitive load.


[1]: John Sweller / Cognitive Load During Problem Solving: Effects on Learningref - seminal paper on cognitive load

[2]: George Miller / The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on our Capacity for Processing Informationref - seminal paper on working memory

[3]: Journal of Experimental Psychology, Murphy, Gregory L. Wright, Jack C./ Changes in conceptual structure with expertise: Differences between real-world experts and novices. is a study of the impact of expertise on cognitive load, notably determining that expertise is linked to using "shared" knowledge across tasks, i.e. applying learnings from one mastered category to the next ; while novices virtually don't.

[4]: US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health / Socioeconomic status and the developing brain describes that given similar IQ, cognitive capacity for people from lower socioeconomic status is lower:

Childhood socioeconomic status (SES) is associated with cognitive achievement throughout life. How does SES relate to brain development, and what are the mechanisms by which SES might exert its influence? We review studies in which behavioral, electrophysio-logical and neuroimaging methods have been used to characterize SES disparities in neurocognitive function. These studies indicate that SES is an important predictor of neurocognitive performance, particularly of language and executive function, and that SES differences are found in neural processing even when performance levels are equal. Implications for basic cognitive neuroscience and for understanding and ameliorating the problems related to childhood poverty are discussed.

~ Daniel A. Hackman and Martha J. Farah, Socioeconomic status and the developing brain

[5]: Wikipedia / Yerkes and Dodson Law is showing experimentally, in presence of an audience, an increased performance for mastered tasks, and a decreased performance for complex / non-mastered tasks.

[6]: Journal of Applied Social Psychology, Monica Biernat, Diane Kobrynowicz, Dara L. Weber / Stereotypes and Shifting Standards: Some Paradoxical Effects of Cognitive Load - studying the impact of cognitive load on stereotyping:

Four studies tested a prediction derived from the shifting‐standards model (Biernat, Manis, & Nelson, 1991) regarding the role stereotypes play in judgments of individual group members. Previous research has documented that stereotyping effects are stronger on objective than on subjective response scales, and the present studies found that these effects were intensified when participants were under heavy cognitive load. Stereotyping effects increased on objective judgment scales, but decreased on subjective scales. The latter is a paradoxical effect: By relying on stereotypes, one may increasingly use them as within‐category comparative standards, which leads to the apparent reduction of stereotyping effects.

~ Monica Biernat, Diane Kobrynowicz, Dara L. Weber, Stereotypes and Shifting Standards: Some Paradoxical Effects of Cognitive Load

[7]: British Journal of Educational Psychology, PAUL CHANDLER, JOHN SWELLER / THE SPLIT‐ATTENTION EFFECT AS A FACTOR IN THE DESIGN OF INSTRUCTION: describes how splitting attention (i.e. increasing cognitive load) is reducing the cognitive capacity to memorize information.