Attention Approximation – distribution of cognitive load

Open Notebook Science

Open Notebook Science

  1. Was talking with Andy this morning re ‘TV no longer commands our full attention’ [1] and the work we are doing with the BBC. It was interesting to consider the outcomes of the paper in the light of the attention approximation work, also with regard to the implication that there is an increased cognitive load and we know in HCI that this is often seen as a pejorative thing; and that we need to keep cognitive flow to a minimum.
  2.  However if we look at other sources such as the Yerkes-Dodson curve or Csikszentmihalyi’s ‘Flow’ then we can also see that maybe increased average cognitive load is actually a good thing and keeps people motivated and interested in the topic. We might also suggest that people multitask while watching television; doing other things when they consider that something is uninteresting or boring on the main screen. In this way we could see that there would be an average cognitive load increase but actually there would be a consistent cognitive load instead of a spiked cognitive load, indeed this may be the intention of users, to smooth out the peaks and troughs and maintain a smooth and interested cognitive load.
  3. So in general I think that this idea of an even distribution of cognitive load – which might increase the total average cognitive load – is actually a good thing when seen in the context of maintaining interest. The only problem might be that if the second screen does not have companion content then interest may be moved from the content on the main screen to some other interest area. To me this suggests that maintaining even cognitive load and thereby maintaining even interest enables us to remove the spikes; especially the troughs in interest which might prove to be exit points to different content or behaviour which might be detrimental to the producers of the current content on the main screen.

This is my first attempt at a little Open Notebook Science [2]. My outputs have now moved from the lab to direct the research and in this case I’m increasingly interested in having an open approach to my thinking (or at least a semi-open approach).


  1. Anna Van Cauwenberge, Gabi Schaap, Rob van Roy, ‘TV no longer commands our full attention’: Effects of second-screen viewing and task relevance on cognitive load and learning from news, Computers in Human Behavior, Volume 38, September 2014, Pages 100-109, ISSN 0747-5632, [](
  2. Open Notebook Science is the practice of making the entire primary record of a research project publicly available online as it is recorded.

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