Cognitive Cost & The Cognitive Crisis

 The brain is a beautiful thing, but it is not built to deal with today's explosive demand for cognitive capacity.

The brain is a beautiful thing, but it is not built to deal with today's explosive demand for cognitive capacity.

No doubt, digitalization is changing a lot of things for us communicators. But it's not necessarily technology that is the interesting part. The effects of technology, on the other hand, is. One such effect is that we produce and consume much more data. How does that affect how we prioritize in our communication? 

Mobile data, PB/month. Source: Ericsson Mobility Report 2017

The amount of data consumed is growing much quicker than you might think. From 2009, when Honesty started, to the forecast for 2022 we are talking in the vicinity of 106 000%. That's a big number.

Our brains do not evolve at this pace. Not even close. And we can't cope with this massive increase in data without trauma. 

The effect is a cognitive crisis where the recipient's cognitive capacity in terms of attention, interpretation, analysis, and choice is surpassed and becomes the new bottleneck.

We look for emotional rewards when we decide which information to consume and which to scroll past. We've known this to be true for a very long time – in advertising arguably since the 60's. But when we have a cognitive crisis in combination with the ability to scroll och click past ads, the cognitive cost side becomes much more important. The unconscious decision to consume a given message will require the expected emotional reward to be higher than the expected cognitive cost. 

The cognitive cost of our communication thus becomes a new top priority when we design our communication.

Key ConceptsWalter Naeslund