Cognitive ease and cognitive strain

August 18, 2012

Whenever you are conscious, and perhaps even when you are not, multipl computations are going on in your brain, which maintain and update current answers to some key questions: Is anything new going on? Is there a threat? Are things going well? Should my attention be redirected? Is more effort needed for this task? You can think of a cockpit, with a set of dials that indicate the current values of each of these essential variables. The assessments are carried out automatically by System 1, and one of their functions is to determine whether extra effort is required from System 2.
One of the dials measures cognitive ease, and its range is between “Easy” and “Strained:’ Easy is a sign that things are going well-no threats, no major news) no need to redirect attention or mobilize effort. Strained indicates that a problem exists, which will require increased mobili~ation of System 2. Conversely, you experience cognitive strain. Cognitive strain is affected by d both the current level of effort and the presence of unmet demands. The surprise is that a single dial of cognitive ease is connected to a large network of diverse inputs and outputs. Figure 5 on page 60 tells the story.

The figure suggests that a sentence that is printed in a clear font, or has been repeated, or has been primed, will be fluently processed with cognitive E ease. Hearing a speaker when you are in a good mood, or even when you have a pencil stuck crosswise in your mouth to make you ((smile;~ also induces cognitive ease. Conversely, you experience cognitive strain when you ‘ read instructions in a poor font, or in faint colors, or worded in complicated nguage, or when you are in a bad mood, and even when you frown.

Kahneman 2012, p.59


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