Chapter 4: Cognitive Aspects

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Objectives

The main goals of the chapter are to accomplish the following:

  • Explain what cognition is and why it is important for interaction design.
  • Discuss what attention is and its effects on our ability to multitask.
  • Describe how memory can be enhanced through technology aids.
  • Show the difference between various cognitive frameworks that have been applied to HCI.
  • Explain what are mental models.
  • Enable you to elicit a mental model and understand what it means.


Introduction

Imagine that it is getting late in the evening and you are sitting in front of your laptop. You have a report to complete by tomorrow morning, but you are not getting very far with it. You begin to panic and start biting your nails. You see two text messages flash up on your smartphone. You instantly abandon your report and cradle your smartphone to read them. One is from your mother, and the other is from your friend asking if you want to go out for a drink. You reply immediately to both of them. Before you know it, you’re back on Facebook to see whether any of your friends have posted anything about the party you wanted to go to but had to say no. Your phone rings, and you see that it’s your dad calling. You answer it, and he asks if you have been watching the football game. You say that you are too busy working toward a deadline, and he tells you that your team has just scored. You chat with him for a while and then say you have to get back to work. You realize 30 minutes have passed, and you return your attention to your report. But before you realize it, you click your favorite sports site to check the latest score of the football game and discover that your team has just scored again. Your phone starts buzzing. Two new WhatsApp messages are waiting for you. And on it goes. You glance at the time on your laptop. It is midnight. You really are in a panic now and finally close everything down except your word processor.


In the past 10–15 years, it has become increasingly common for people to be switching their attention constantly among multiple tasks. The study of human cognition can help us understand the impact of multitasking on human behavior. It can also provide insights into other types of digital behaviors, such as decision-making, searching, and designing when using computer technologies by examining human abilities and limitations.


This chapter covers these aspects by examining the cognitive aspects of interaction design. It considers what humans are good and bad at, and it shows how this knowledge can inform the design of technologies that both extend human capabilities and compensate for human weaknesses. Finally, relevant cognitive theories, which have been applied in HCI to inform technology design, are described.