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Abstract

Many animals manipulate their environments in ways that appear to augment cognitive processing. Adult humans show remarkable flexibility in this domain, typically relying on internal cognitive processing when adequate but turning to external support in situations of high internal demand. We use calendars, calculators, navigational aids and other external means to compensate for our natural cognitive shortcomings and achieve otherwise unattainable feats of intelligence. As yet, however, the developmental origins of this fundamental capacity for cognitive offloading remain largely unknown. In two studies, children aged 4–11 years (n = 258) were given an opportunity to manually rotate a turntable to eliminate the internal demands of mental rotation––to solve the problem in the world rather than in their heads. In study 1, even the youngest children showed a linear relationship between mental rotation demand and likelihood of using the external strategy, paralleling the classic relationship between angle of mental rotation and reaction time. In study 2, children were introduced to a version of the task where manually rotating inverted stimuli was sometimes beneficial to performance and other times redundant. With increasing age, children were significantly more likely to manually rotate the turntable only when it would benefit them. These results show how humans gradually calibrate their cognitive offloading strategies throughout childhood and thereby uncover the developmental origins of this central facet of intelligence.

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... For example, children use sticky notes to record tasks (all contents or main points) in order to be better at homework. Previous studies have demonstrated that children became able to offload information according to the difficulty of a task during elementary school (Armitage et al., 2020); however, how children offload on the basis of cues related to learning item difficulty and value remains unknown. In the present research, we conducted a preliminary investigation of this topic. ...
... Studies have indicated that children apply appropriate cognitive offloading strategies on the basis of the difficulty of a task. Armitage et al. (2020) reported that when provided with opportunities to rotate a turntable manually instead of performing mental rotation, children aged 4-11 years were able to rely on manual rotation as the difficulty of mental rotation increased. In addition, the ability to offload mental demand to manual operation increased with the children's age. ...
... In conclusion, the present research expanded on previous research related to the development of cognitive offloading during difficult tasks (Armitage et al., 2020;Redshaw et al., 2018) by exploring the effects of item difficulty and value on cognitive offloading and demonstrating the developmental characteristics and mechanisms of cognitive offloading during cue utilization. ...
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The storage of information in external tools (e.g., notebook, cellphone) has become increasingly common. Some researchers have defined this behavior as cognitive offloading, which is a type of learning strategy. Studies have indicated that as age increases, children become increasingly capable of calibrating their learning strategies according to the difficulty of learning items. The value of items is also essential in people’s daily learning. However, how children apply both cues of item difficulty and item value for cognitive offloading to regulate their learning process remains unclear. In three studies, we investigated children’s offloading of learning items by manipulating these items’ difficulty and value (Study 1), value alone with difficulty being unvaried (Study 2), and difficulty and value with an emphasis on value (Study 3). The results indicate that children aged 11 years used difficulty cues alone for cognitive offloading when both difficulty and value cues were presented. However, when difficulty was controlled and value was emphasized, the 11-year-old children adopted cognitive offloading strategies based on value cues. The three studies revealed the conditions under which children in middle childhood apply cues of the item value, which are goal-driven cues, for cognitive offloading and provided methods for encouraging children to simultaneously apply item difficulty cues, which are data-driven cues, and item value cues.
... However, only older children set reminders when they had to devise the strategy themselves. These findings show that under the right circumstances, selective offloading strategies may be observed in very young children (see also Armitage et al., 2020;Armitage & Redshaw, 2021). However, the scenario studied by Redshaw et al. (2018) could have presented a particular challenge for young children. ...
Preprint
How do we remember delayed intentions? Three decades of research into prospective memory have provided insight into the cognitive and neural mechanisms involved in this form of memory. However, we depend on more than just our brains to remember intentions. We also use external props and tools such as calendars and diaries, strategically-placed objects, and technologies such as smartphone alerts. This is known as ‘intention offloading’. Despite the progress in our understanding of brain-based prospective memory, we know much less about the role of intention offloading in individuals’ ability to fulfil delayed intentions. Here, we review recent research into intention offloading, with a particular focus on how individuals decide between storing intentions in internal memory versus external reminders. We also review studies investigating how intention offloading changes across the lifespan and how it relates to underlying brain mechanisms. We conclude that intention offloading is highly effective, experimentally tractable, and guided by metacognitive processes. Individuals have systematic biases in their offloading strategies which are stable over time. Evidence also suggests that individual differences and developmental changes in offloading strategies are driven at least in part by metacognitive processes. Therefore, metacognitive interventions could play an important role in promoting individuals’ adaptive use of cognitive tools.
... Recent research on the psychological mechanisms of cognitive offloading has revealed that the flexible use of external memory aids depends on reliable metacognitive insight [14,[225][226][227][228]. To strategically adopt a clock-watching strategy requires a degree of awareness about the inaccuracy of one's internal time perception, and a level of awareness that clock monitoring will be required to successfully fulfil one's intention. ...
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The capacity for subjective time in humans encompasses the perception of time’s unfolding from moment to moment, as well as the ability to traverse larger temporal expanses of past- and future-oriented thought via mental time travel. Disruption in time perception can result in maladaptive outcomes—from the innocuous lapse in timing that leads to a burnt piece of toast, to the grievous miscalculation that produces a traffic accident—while disruption to mental time travel can impact core functions from planning appointments to making long-term decisions. Mounting evidence suggests that disturbances to both time perception and mental time travel are prominent in dementia syndromes. Given that such disruptions can have severe consequences for independent functioning in everyday life, here we aim to provide a comprehensive exposition of subjective timing dysfunction in dementia, with a view to informing the management of such disturbances. We consider the neurocognitive mechanisms underpinning changes to both time perception and mental time travel across different dementia disorders. Moreover, we explicate the functional implications of altered subjective timing by reference to two key and representative adaptive capacities: prospective memory and intertemporal decision-making. Overall, our review sheds light on the transdiagnostic implications of subjective timing disturbances in dementia and highlights the high variability in performance across clinical syndromes and functional domains.
... In cognitive research, such behavior is referred to as cognitive offloading, namely "the use of physical action to alter the information processing requirements of a task so as to reduce cognitive demand" (Risko & Gilbert, 2016). Cognitive offloading is ubiquitous in many aspects of everyday life supporting a wide variety of cognitive processes including perception (e.g., Risko et al., 2014), memory (e.g., Gilbert, 2015a), problem solving (e.g., Moritz et al., 2020), mental arithmetic (e.g., Goldin-Meadow et al., 2001;Osiurak et al., 2018), navigation (e.g., Fenech et al., 2010), or spatial reasoning (e.g., Armitage et al., 2020;Chu & Kita, 2011;Weis & Wiese, 2018. Incorporating external aids into cognitive processing has been conceptualized as extended mind (Clark & Chalmers, 1998). ...
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The cognitive load of many everyday life tasks exceeds known limitations of short-term memory. One strategy to compensate for information overload is cognitive offloading which refers to the externalization of cognitive processes such as reminder setting instead of memorizing. There appears to be remarkable variance in offloading behavior between participants which poses the question whether there is a common factor influencing offloading behavior across different tasks tackling short-term memory processes. To pursue this question, we studied individual differences in offloading behavior between two well-established offloading paradigms: the intention offloading task which tackles memory for intentions and the pattern copy task which tackles continuous short-term memory load. Our study also included an unrelated task measuring short-term memory capacity. Each participant completed all tasks twice on two consecutive days in order to obtain reliability scores. Despite high reliability scores, individual differences in offloading behavior were uncorrelated between the two offloading tasks. In both tasks, however, individual differences in offloading behavior were correlated with the individual differences in an unrelated short-term memory task. Our results therefore show that offloading behavior cannot simply be explained in terms of a single common factor driving offloading behavior across tasks. We discuss the implications of this finding for future research investigating the interrelations of offloading behavior across different tasks.
... In return, it might be the absence of practice and routine in using internal resources which causes the detrimental effects of cognitive offloading (Risko & Gilbert, 2016;Salomon, 1990). Recent findings revealed that already children selectively use tools to overcome cognitive limitations (Armitage et al., 2020;Bulley et al., 2020). Therefore, effects with and of technology might already constitute an important trade-off to consider at young ages. ...
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Modern technical tools such as tablets allow for the temporal externalization of working memory processes (i.e. cognitive offloading). Although such externalizations support immediate performance on different tasks, little is known about potential long-term consequences of offloading behavior. In the current set of experiments, we studied the relationship between cognitive offloading and subsequent memory for the offloaded information as well as the interplay of this relationship with the goal to acquire new memory representations. Our participants solved the Pattern Copy Task, in which we manipulated the costs of cognitive offloading and the awareness of a subsequent memory test. In Experiment 1 (N = 172), we showed that increasing the costs for offloading induces reduced offloading behavior. This reduction in offloading came along with lower immediate task performance but more accurate memory in an unexpected test. In Experiment 2 (N = 172), we confirmed these findings and observed that offloading behavior remained detrimental for subsequent memory performance when participants were aware of the upcoming memory test. Interestingly, Experiment 3 (N = 172) showed that cognitive offloading is not detrimental for long-term memory formation under all circumstances. Those participants who were forced to offload maximally but were aware of the memory test could almost completely counteract the negative impact of offloading on memory. Our experiments highlight the importance of the explicit goal to acquire new memory representations when relying on technical tools as offloading did have detrimental effects on memory without such a goal.
... Various lines of evidence suggest that children gradually acquire basic capacities over the preschool years (Atance, 2015;Suddendorf, 2017), but that developments continue into late childhood and beyond (Ghetti & Coughlin, 2018;. Recent studies also suggest that even preschool-aged children can recognize their cognitive limits and compensate for them with into-the-world cognitive offloading (Armitage et al., 2020;. Nonetheless, we are not aware of any studies directly examining children's appreciation of the utility of mobile containers as physical offloading devices, although even young infants may have some understanding of the general concept of containment (Hespos & Baillargeon, 2001), and four-year-olds can secure a tool in a provided container for a return to a problem they had encountered earlier . ...
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Mobile containers are a keystone human innovation. Ethnographic data indicate that all human groups use containers such as bags, quivers and baskets, ensuring that individuals have important resources at the ready and are prepared for opportunities and threats before they materialize. Although there is speculation surrounding the invention of carrying devices, the current hard archaeological evidence only reaches back some 100,000 years. The dearth of ancient evidence may reflect not only taphonomic processes , but also a lack of attention to these devices. To begin investigating the origins of carrying devices we focus on exploring the basic cognitive processes involved in mobile container use and report an initial study on young children's understanding and deployment of such devices. We gave 3-to 7-year-old children (N = 106) the opportunity to spontaneously identify and use a basket to increase their own carrying capacity and thereby obtain more resources in the future. Performance improved linearly with age, as did the likelihood of recognizing that adults use mobile carrying devices to increase carrying capacity. We argue that the evolutionary and developmental origins of mobile containers reflect foundational cognitive processes that enable humans to think about their own limits and compensate for them.
Article
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Ninety‐seven children aged 4–11 (49 males, 48 females, mostly White) were given the opportunity to improve their problem‐solving performance by devising and implementing a novel cognitive offloading strategy. Across two phases, they searched for hidden rewards using maps that were either aligned or misaligned with the search space. In the second phase, maps were presented on rotatable turntables, thus allowing children to manually align all maps and alleviate mental rotation demand. From age six onwards, children showed strong evidence of both mentally rotating misaligned maps in phase 1 and manually aligning them in phase 2. Older children used this form of cognitive offloading more frequently, which substantially improved performance and eliminated the individual differences observed in phase 1.
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Research has shown that adults can engage in cognitive offloading, whereby internal processes are offloaded onto the environment to help task performance. Here we investigate an application of this approach with children, in particular children with poor working memory. Participants were required to remember and recall sequences of colors by placing colored blocks in the correct serial order. In one condition the blocks were arranged to facilitate cognitive offloading (i.e., grouped by color), whereas in the other condition they were arranged randomly. Across two experiments (total N = 166) the ordered condition improved task performance for children with low working memory ability. In addition, participants in Experiment 2 rated the difficulty of the two arrangements, and performed a further condition in which they were given an opportunity to freely arrange the blocks before completing the task. Despite performing better in the ordered condition, children with low working memory ability did not rate the ordered arrangement as easier, nor did they chose an ordered arrangement when given the opportunity to do so. This research shows that cognitive offloading can also be a useful process in populations other than typical adults, and the implications of this work for supporting children with poor working memory are discussed.
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The current study examined early signs of implicit metacognitive monitoring in 3.5-year-old children. During a learning phase children had to learn paired associates. In the test phase, children performed a recognition task and choose the correct associate for a given target among four possible answers. Subsequently, children's explicit confidence judgments (CJs) and their fixation time allocation at the confidence scale were assessed. Analyses showed that explicit CJs did not differ for remembered compared to non-remembered items. In contrast, children's fixation patterns on the confidence scale were affected by the correctness of their memory, as children looked longer to high confidence ratings when they correctly remembered the associated item. Moreover, analyses of pupil size revealed pupil dilations for correctly remembered, but not incorrectly remembered items. The results converge with recent behavioral findings that reported evidence for implicit metacognitive memory monitoring processes in 3.5-year-old children. The study suggests that implicit metacognitive abilities might precede the development of explicit metacognitive knowledge.
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While the extended cognition (EC) thesis has gained more followers in cognitive science and in the philosophy of mind and knowledge, our main goal is to discuss a different area of significance of the EC thesis: its relation to philosophy of science. In this introduction, we outline two major areas: (I) The role of the thesis for issues in the philosophy of cognitive science, such as: How do notions of EC figure in theories or research programs in cognitive science? Which versions of the EC thesis appear, and with which arguments to support them? (II) The potentials and limits of the EC thesis for topics in general philosophy of science, such as: Can naturalism perhaps be further advanced by means of the more recent EC thesis? Can we understand “big science” or laboratory research better by invoking some version of EC? And can the EC thesis help in overcoming the notorious cognitive/social divide in science studies?
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Two experiments are reported in which Ss were required to determine whether a random, angular form, presented at any of a number of picture-plane orientations, was a "standard" or "reflected" version. Average time required to make this determination increased linearly with the angular departure of the form from a previously learned orientation. The slope and intercept of the reaction-time (RT) function were virtually constant, regardless of the perceptual complexity of the test form and the orientation selected for initial learning. When Ss were informed in advance as to the identity and the orientation of the upcoming test form and, further, were permitted to indicate when they were prepared for its external presentation, RT for determining the version of the form was constant for all test-form orientations. However, the time needed to prepare for the test-form presentation increased linearly with the angular departure of the form from the learned orientation. It is argued that the processes both of preparing for and of responding to a disoriented test form consist of the mental rotation of an image, and that both sorts of mental rotation (pre-stimulus and post-stimulus) are carried out at essentially the same constant rate.
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Attempted to determine (a) whether 4- and 5-yr-old children can evoke and use kinetic imagery (measured via mental rotation procedures) and (b) whether the ability to use kinetic imagery depends on the attainment of concrete operations (measured via a test of number conservation). To test kinetic imagery ability, 24 4-yr-olds and 24 5-yr-olds were asked to make same–different judgments on pairs of forms that differed in angular orientation. Half of the Ss had been trained to rotate one form into congruence with the other to make judging easier, while the other half had not been given training. It was hypothesized that if children of this age both use and evoke kinetic imagery, then both the trained and untrained Ss should yield the linear trends in reaction time indicative of kinetic imagery. If children can use but not evoke kinetic imagery, it was expected that the trained Ss would yield these linear trends while the untrained children would not. Results show that 4- and 5-yr-olds used and evoked kinetic imagery. Their performance was compared to that of a group of 24 adults. 26 of the children also were given a test of number conservation. Results yield no evidence of association between kinetic imagery and conservation, suggesting that the ability to use kinetic imagery does not depend on the attainment of concrete operations. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Age-related declines in vision can have a major impact on the health and well-being of an older population. A review of research on aging and vision indicates that these declines occur at multiple levels of the visual system including optics, sensory processing, and perceptual processing and are not likely due to a systemic change in brain function (e.g., generalized slowing; common cause hypothesis) as a result of normal aging. In addition, declines in sensory and perceptual processing are not due to low-level explanations such as the amount of light that reaches the retina. Declines in visual performance are due to a variety of distinct factors that include spatial integration and difficulty in processing visual information in the presence of noise. Neurophysiological studies suggest that processing declines may be due in part to changes in cortical inhibition mediated by changes in the level of neurotransmitters associated with inhibition. Despite the widespread declines in function with normal aging, recent research suggests that perceptual learning can be used to dramatically improve visual function for older individuals. This research suggests a high degree of plasticity of the visual system among older populations and suggests that perceptual learning is an important tool for the recovery of age-related declines in vision. WIREs Cogn Sci 2012, 3:403–410. doi: 10.1002/wcs.1167 For further resources related to this article, please visit the WIREs website.
Change blindness and inattentional blindness are both failures of visual awareness. Change blindness is the failure to notice an obvious change. Inattentional blindness is the failure to notice the existence of an unexpected item. In each case, we fail to notice something that is clearly visible once we know to look for it. Despite similarities, each type of blindness has a unique background and distinct theoretical implications. Here, we discuss the central paradigms used to explore each phenomenon in a historical context. We also outline the central findings from each field and discuss their implications for visual perception and attention. In addition, we examine the impact of task and observer effects on both types of blindness as well as common pitfalls and confusions people make while studying these topics. WIREs Cogni Sci 2011 2 529-546 DOI: 10.1002/wcs.130 For further resources related to this article, please visit the WIREs website. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
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An experiment investigated at what age children could represent movement in imagery. Five- and eight-year olds were asked whether two stimuli were the same or different in shape. The two stimuli were either presented in the same orientation or one stimulus differed from the other by clockwise rotation of 30 ° (0.52 rad), 60 ° (1.05 rad), 120 ° (2.09 rad), or 150 ° (2.62 rad). Children were instructed to visually imagine the counterclockwise rotation of one shape into the position of the other to help make the judgment. For both 5- and 8-yr olds, reaction times increased as a linear function of angular discrepancy between stimuli, indicating that both age groups represented rotation in their imagery. The findings conflict with Piaget and Inhelder's thesis that imagery representing movement first emerges when children are 7 to 8 yrs of age.
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Two incidental memory tasks were given to 3.5–6.5 yr old children to test for an age increase in the tendency to use a simple indirect retrieval strategy when direct retrieval efforts do not suffice. In both tasks, pictures of people were paired with very closely associated toy objects (e.g., farmer—toy tractor), and the indirect retrieval strategy consisted of thinking to use one member of the pair as a cue to the recall of the other, e.g., turning over the visible but facedown pictures and using them as retrieval cues for the toys. Support for the predicted age trend was obtained in one of the two tasks. It was suggested that the development of retrieval skills in children may show some parallels with that of storage skills.
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When deciding whether two stimuli rotated in space are identical or mirror reversed, subjects employ mental rotation to solve the task. In children mental rotation can be trained by extensive repetition of the task, but the improvement seems to rely on the retrieval of previously learned stimuli. We assumed that due to the close relation between mental and manual rotation in children a manual training should improve the mental rotation process itself. The manual training we developed indeed ameliorated mental rotation and the training effect was not limited to learned stimuli. While boys outperformed girls in the mental rotation test before the manual rotation training, we found no gender differences in the results of the manual rotation task.
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The present study investigated event-based prospective memory in five age groups of preschoolers (i.e., 2-, 3-, 4-, 5-, and 6-year-olds). Applying a laboratory-controlled prospective memory procedure, the data showed that event-based prospective memory performance improves across the preschool years, at least between 3 and 6 years of age. However, our findings do not confirm early speculations that 2-year-olds may have attained reliable skills to carry out future intentions on their own. By contrast, there were first signs of prospective memory abilities among the 3-year-olds. The present study also revealed that children as young as 3 years can use external memory aids in the form of cue-action reminders to improve their event-based prospective remembering. Finally, the findings suggest that parents or caregivers can adequately estimate their preschool children's prospective memory abilities, as revealed by applying a modified version of the Prospective and Retrospective Memory Questionnaire (PRMQ).
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Monkeys will selectively and adaptively learn to avoid the most difficult trials of a perceptual discrimination learning task. Couchman, Coutinho, Beran, and Smith (2010) have recently demonstrated that this pattern of responding does not depend on animals receiving trial-by-trial feedback for their responses; it also obtains if experience of the most difficult trials occurs only under conditions of deferred feedback. Couchman et al. argued that this ruled out accounts based on low-level processes of associative learning and instead required explanation in terms of metacognitive processes of decision monitoring. Contrary to this argument, a simple associative model of reinforcement learning is shown to account for the key findings of Couchman et al.'s empirical study, along with several other findings that have previously been claimed to challenge associative models.
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The advent of the Internet, with sophisticated algorithmic search engines, has made accessing information as easy as lifting a finger. No longer do we have to make costly efforts to find the things we want. We can "Google" the old classmate, find articles online, or look up the actor who was on the tip of our tongue. The results of four studies suggest that when faced with difficult questions, people are primed to think about computers and that when people expect to have future access to information, they have lower rates of recall of the information itself and enhanced recall instead for where to access it. The Internet has become a primary form of external or transactive memory, where information is stored collectively outside ourselves.