This illustration depicts metacognitive evaluation of internal vs. external strategies. CREDIT: Evan F. Risko
Every day, we rely on our physical surroundings–friends, gadgets, and even hand gestures–to manage incoming information and retain it.
In a Review published August 16 in Trends in Cognitive Sciences, two researchers explain the myriad ways in which forms of assistance from gestures to GPS affect both what we know and what we think we know.
Evan F. Risko, a Canada Research chair in Cognitive Psychology at the University of Waterloo, and co-author Sam Gilbert, a Royal Society research fellow at University College London, call these behaviors “cognitive offloading”–physical actions that reduce the mental effort needed to perform a task. When required to remember an appointment, for example, people are faced with the choice of internally remembering it or “offloading” it, by writing it down in a calendar or setting a reminder with a smartphone. Similarly, your accountant may choose to use a calculator when going over your finances rather than mentally perform all of the necessary computations.