I'm curious if there is a branch of science that has tried to quantify the amount of attention or cognitive effort it takes to complete a task?

Some high/low examples:

  1. A musician performing on the road playing a song for the first time vs. playing a song for the hundredth time.
  2. A consumer faced with participating in an auction "Bid Now" vs purchasing a product with one button "Buy Now".
  3. A driver circling to find a parking space compared to just handing the keys to a valet.

All these tasks require presence, attention, and thought to accomplish something but vary greatly in how much bleeping energy they require.

  • 1
    I think if you try searching for "Cognitive Neuroscience" you might find what you're looking for. However, I don't think you'll find anything in the goldilocks zone between too generalised and too specialised that will be of any use beyond being 'interesting'. On the generalised scale they tend to talk about entire populations and on the specific scale that tend to talk about a particular type of candidate performing a specific task under a very strict set of conditions. Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 9:50
  • 1
    I don't think this adequately answers your question, but KLM-GOMS is a technique for modeling (expert) user behavior. It includes timing for mouse movements and clicks, hand movement from keyboard to mouse, etc. Plus the user's mental preparation time. For certain procedures it might provide a relative measure of cognitive effort. Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 13:26

2 Answers 2


One method is to give the subject some tedious and repetitive task at the same time. Something that's easy to measure.

High cognitive load tasks will interfere with the ability to do the tedious thing, and the subject's speed and accuracy will be affected.

So you can get a measure - indirectly - by measuring the tedious task performance, rather than measuring the cogitive load task itself.

  • This is where the UX component of cognitive science intersect with me. I was asked to comment on an app to be used to capture sales prospects on a conference showroom floor. The amount of attention and effort it took to scan, annotate, and submit the information detracted from the relationship building taking place. By default the sales rep would accept a business card, write a code on the back, and pocket it for data entry later. This same conundrum applies to doctors, patients, and electronic health records. Writing on a chart has so much less friction than more modern means.
    – Stevko
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 19:26
  • 1
    It's also why talking on a hands free mobile phone while driving affects driving performance.
    – PhillipW
    Commented Oct 20, 2017 at 6:05

Cognitive load is often a parameter built into experiments as an independent variable up to the definition of the persons who are experimenting.

Cognitive load and cognitive effort have a direct relationship with the recall and recognition fat and the functionality of the brain as in our brain we have sensory memory, working memory and long-term memory and also this is so subjective that most of the times, it becomes difficult to apply any practical method to give the answer in binary solution as whether the particular solution is increasing the cognitive load or decreasing.

In my experience, cognitive load is more of the psychologically inclined term which varies from person to person. Hence, it is quite difficult to infer from any raw physiological measure.

Some of the links that can help are : Science Direct, Cognitive load theory, How can we determine cognitive load level using eye-tracking measures?

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.