Differences of Cognitive Offloading Usage among Individuals Performing Short Term Memory Tasks

Sooraj Shah ’24

Figure 1: Use of writing as an cognitive offloading device improves memory performance

Recalling a lot of information at one time is possible, but not feasible. Writing information down on a paper during a class or in the grocery store, for instance, are ways to reduce the strain of memorization within an individual. This concept is further defined as cognitive offloading, which can assist in overcoming the cognitive restraints in mentally retaining information. A study conducted by Dr. Lauren Richmond, a professor in cognitive science within the Stony Brook Department of Psychology, focused on studying the relationship of working mental capacity(WMC) and the use of offloading by comparing the results of the same group of individuals during different trials, one with the option to offload and the other with no option to offload. Using an experimental design of asking participants to recall letters in the order they were presented with different trials (one with option to offload and second with no option of offloading), the connection between an individual’s WMC and use of offloading was explored. 

College students were shown an array of two to ten letters and were asked to recall the letters in the same order as they were presented. After two practice rounds the participants were tested without having the option to use cognitive offloading, verbally recalling the order and content of items to the experimenter who then marked the items right or wrong. The same procedure was repeated, this time the participants were given the option to write down any content they wanted. After these short term tasks, participants underwent a complex task where math problems were presented in combination with letters. 

The experiment yielded a significant relationship between cognitive memory and the decision to offload. It was found that the participants performed better in the choice control portion of the experiment than in the no-choice portion. In addition, cognitive offloading increased as memory load increased. The lack of correlation between working memory capacity and offloading frequency, however, is contrary to the expected results. Although it was observed that WMC was not indicative of offloading frequency during the short term memory tasks, the use of offloading has been supported to be effective in improving efficiency in memory intensive tasks. 

The utilization of cognitive offloading has shown to benefit memory performance when higher amounts of workload are presented, indicative of application to greater populations. Future studies will elaborate on how mental capacity can be directly related to offloading frequency. 

Works Cited

  1. Morrison, A.B., & Richmond, L.L. Offloading items from memory: individual differences in cognitive offloading in a short-term memory task. Cogn. Research 5, 1 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s41235-019-0201-4


  1. Image retrieved from: https://images.unsplash.com/photo-1501618669935-18b6ecb13d6d?ixid=MXwxMjA3fDB8MHxwaG90by1wYWdlfHx8fGVufDB8fHw%3D&ixlib=rb-1.2.1&auto=format&fit=crop&w=732&q=80

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