Cognitive Aspects of Understanding
There are a multitude of ways that humans process information to extract knowledge and understanding from stimuli.
Cold Cognition refers to the processes by which the brain processes information consciously and subconsciously, including meta-cognition (thinking about thinking). This paradigm does not include the impact of emotions, stress, or other influences. These influences and more are contained in the Hot Cognition model, which is an overlay to the Cold Cognition model. For example, humans are more likely to recall memories that were encoded and retrieved in the same affective state. Thus, in emergency management situations, it is important to reduce stress to aid in memory recall. Additionally, stress degrades cognitive performance overall and should be minimized (one way to do so is by training for various emergency scenarios). Sleep deprivation has similar effects, so shift workers should be utilized if an emergency situation requires round-the-clock work.
Hot cognition paradigms include, but are not limited to, distributed processing, embodied cognition, and situated cognition. Distributed cognition can be employed through shared mental models between ground teams and command teams. Embodied cognition encourages systems to be designed with intuitive interactions, such as natural user interfaces and touch displays. Situated cognition stresses the importance of situational awareness and context.
Top-down processing should be leveraged for alerts and warnings that are widely known and recognized as alert icons in the United States. This eliminates the need for operators to switch to bottom-up processing to determine the meaning of alert symbols. Top-down processing is seeing the overview first before digging down into the details (i.e. seeing the forest before seeing individual trees). Top-down processing is also used to quickly identify singletons. Bottom-up processing is building an overview after understanding the meaning of the details (i.e. seeing a bunch of trees, then observing that it is a forest). Wickens’ Multiple Resource Theory (MRT) can be applied to enhance the likelihood that a human absorbs information. For example, information can be conveyed through written and spoken words. MRT can be used to predict when concurrent task performance will degrade, such as attempting to speak and listen at the same time.
Text should be written carefully to make understanding easy. Murray’s Active Reading Model suggests that sentence structures and wording should stay consistent and match metacognitive schemas. The CHIP model (Communication Human Information Processing) supports putting alerts in bold and red, use simple language with little to no jargon, and use affirmative sentences (negative sentences take more cognitive effort to process).