Cognitive Offloading

Trends Cogn Sci. 2016 Sep;20(9):676-688. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2016.07.002. Epub 2016 Aug 16.


If you have ever tilted your head to perceive a rotated image, or programmed a smartphone to remind you of an upcoming appointment, you have engaged in cognitive offloading: the use of physical action to alter the information processing requirements of a task so as to reduce cognitive demand. Despite the ubiquity of this type of behavior, it has only recently become the target of systematic investigation in and of itself. We review research from several domains that focuses on two main questions: (i) what mechanisms trigger cognitive offloading, and (ii) what are the cognitive consequences of this behavior? We offer a novel metacognitive framework that integrates results from diverse domains and suggests avenues for future research.

Keywords: cognitive offloading; distributed cognition; embodied cognition; metacognition.

Publication types

  • Review