I'm a computer science major. Currently I'm working on a project for which I want to expose users to different levels of information depending on their distance from displays.

Anyone who ever saw a control room of a power plant or the management software of brokers knows that the persons are bombarded with information (directly like numbers, and aggregated like graphs). I think that it might be a good idea to reduce the shown information depending on the distance and the direction one is looking.

I'm pretty sure that psychologists have already done research in that regard, but I'm totally unable to find any paper on that subject. Is there a specific scientific term for this kind of information flood?

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    $\begingroup$ If you look at Cognitive Load theory, it will start you in that direction. Learning theory and Cognitive Load theory interact. When information exceeds the ability to process, we have cognitive overload. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 18:32

1 Answer 1


If what you are seeking is how to present material so that cognitive overload does not occur, you are in the realm of learning theory.[1]

Cognitive load theory and schema (learning) theory go hand in hand in. Schemas are frameworks of information (like a steel-framed skyscraper in your mind); they start as very basic ("This is a cell") and become more complex and facile ("NADH-Q oxidoreductase, Q-cytochrome c oxidoreductase, and cytochrome c oxidase are mitochondrial transmembranous enzyme complexes responsible for oxidative phosphorylation, etc.") They allow (and form) Long Term Memory (LTM). We need a framework ("cell") into which we can stick a fact before we can remember it for more than a very few minutes. The more we know about something (the better our schemas are), the more easily we learn. Working Memory (WM) allows us to process what we are exposed to and place it into a schema so that we can remember it. Like a computer, we have limited WM (processing ability) available to us at any given time. Efficient processing results in placing material into a schema which then facilitates Long Term Memory (LTM).

Inefficient Processing results in an inability to understand what one was just exposed to. Failed schema identification means leads to inability to use information.

Where does cognitive load come in? Cognitive Load takes up processing speed (reducing WM). If cognitive load is great enough, all WM is used up, and we will be unable to identify/form a schema. There are several types of Cognitive load: intrinsic (how complex the information is), extrinsic/ineffective (a bunch of things including distractions, emotionally demanding states [e.g. stress], and especially the way in which material is presented, e.g. inducing splitting of attention, etc.) and germane (what's left over to actually form schemas). They are (kind of) additive. Good schemas reduce cognitive load (increasing WM).

The linked site presents different models of presenting information that promotes schema formation, identification and processing in different situations, and links to further work.

1 Schema Theory and Cognitive Load Theory


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