Thinking Outside the Box: When Do Human Problem Solvers Offload Cognition?

Patrick P. Weis

Major Professor: Eva Wiese, PhD, Department of Psychology

Committee Members: Craig McDonald, Patrick McKnight

David King Hall, #2064
December 02, 2019, 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM


The common main objectives across the three studies presented in the present dissertation lie in improving the understanding of parameters that influence a human problem solver’s decision to use environment-based external instead of brain-based internal resources. In Study 1, it was shown that a human problem solver’s inclination to offload cognition depends on both monitoring the external resource’s actual performance as well as on pre-existing beliefs about the external resource’s performability, indicating comparable importance of both factors. In Study 2, it was shown that a human problem solver’s inclination to offload cognition also depends on the performability of the internal brain-based resources that are relevant for the task at hand. Good internal performability decreased cognitive offloading frequency even when the task at hand looked comparably difficult, thereby suggesting that performability precedes over task appearance in determining offloading propensity. Both Study 1 and Study 2 showed the human problem solver’s sensitivity to performance parameters for determining cognitive offloading frequency. In Study 3, this sensitivity to performance parameters was investigated further. Specifically, it was investigated whether human problem solvers are able to choose between internal and external processing in a way that serves their current performance goals (here, maximal accuracy or speed) or whether they prefer different heuristics like minimizing mental effort or maximizing certain performance metrics (here, accuracy or speed) irrespectively of the current goal. Results of Study 3 confirmed the former, indicating the human problem solver’s capability of choosing between internal and external resources to achieve current performance goals.