Cognitive Offloading: How the Internet is Taking Over Human Memory | SAFETY DOC PODCAST #136

[Podcast] Memory is changing. Research shows that as we use the Internet to support and extend our memory we become more reliant on it. Whereas before we might have tried to recall something on our own, now we don’t bother. As more information becomes available via smartphones and other devices, we become progressively more reliant on it in our daily lives.” Full blog post at safetyphd.com

DIRECT LINK to MP3 of this Episode: https://tinyurl.com/SDP136-AUDIO

WHAT IS COGNITIVE OFFLOADING?

Rather than attempt to mentally store and manipulate all the relevant details about a situation within the brains of individuals (also known as actors), we physically store and manipulate those details out in the world, in the very situation itself. All of us do this – some of us are more effective at it. Cognitive offloading is anything you do to reduce the cognitive demands of a task: basically, to make it take up less mental space.

WHAT INFORMATION ARE WE EXPECTED TO MEMORIZE?

In practice – cognitive offloading replaces memorizing maps, state capitals, names of former presidents — instead, you know where this information is stored and; (A) how to query it; (b) how to access it; and (c) how to apply it.

EXAMPLES OF COGNITIVE OFFLOADING

Here are examples of how humans cognitively offload information into the environment (instead of committing it to memory):  (1) checklist for winterizing your lawn mower; (2) flipchart for what to do during a crisis; and (3) AED with voice output directions and various colored light cues to step you through how to use it to save a life.

INTERNET HAS MADE OUR BRAINS LAZY

Per researcher Dr. Benjamin Storm, 30% of participants who previously consulted the Internet failed to even attempt to answer a single simple question from memory. We look external for answers instead of attempting to figure out things on our own. By discarding face validity (our own observations), we commit to trusting that search results will bring us the most vetted information.

WHY IT’S DIFFICULT TO STUDY COGNITIVE OFFLOADING

Despite much research, the mechanisms that trigger cognitive offloading are not well understood at present — such as why people offload some things and not others and how people optimise cognitive-offloading strategies without those strategies needing to be explicitly instructed. Researchers find it difficult to study the act of people creating reminders for delayed intentions without explicitly telling them about the existence of a compensatory strategy. People tend to do offload more in a condition they perceived as more difficult, not necessarily the condition that was objectively more difficult.

WHAT COGNITIVE OFFLOADING LOOKS LIKE IN SCHOOL SAFETY

Cognitive Offloading manifests as crisis flipcharts hung by classroom doors or converted to electronic files accessible on desktop computers and mobile devices.  It also takes the shape of the “step you through a crisis” phone apps that are inherent to most school safety protocols.

FLAWS WITH COGNITIVE OFFLOADING IN SCHOOL SAFETY

Crises have befallen schools with elaborate school safety plans. These tools fatigue if not exercised by the actors – or the students, staff and families. You can’t just expect to retrieve critical safety information from the environment during a high-stakes crisis situation. You need some level of practice, of familiarity. If we could just retrieve information and immediately make sense of it per our stressed situation and context, each of us could successfully land an airplane.

FOUR WAYS TO BE BETTER AT COGNITIVE OFFLOADING

(1) Probability of having to deal with a situation – if it’s infrequent, opt for cognitive offloading. Aso, use visuals, handwritten notes. Writing notes by hand generally improves your understanding of the material and helps you remember it better, since writing it down involves deeper cognitive-processing of the material than typing it. (2) Don’t offload things you need to memorize such as the rules of the road for driving. (3) Practice how to search for information from reliable sources such as JURN.org or by talking with your face validity member check network. You’ll excel at harvesting valid, trusted information and others will see this admirable characteristic in you. (4) Practice metacognition, or awareness of how you think, to avoid the Dunning-Kruger effect of cognitive bias in which people with low ability at a task overestimate their ability. These are the, “I’m smart enough to know how to do this…”

This is episode #136 of The Safety Doc Podcast

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Purchase Dr. Perrodin’s Book: Schools of Errors – Rethinking School Safety in America

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