Spotlight on...

Xiao Hu

Back to spotlights

What do you work on?

My study focuses on the role of metacognition in cognitive offloading.

Cognitive offloading refers to our use of external environment to reduce our mental demand in daily tasks. For example, we write notes on paper or smartphones in order not to forget shopping lists or upcoming appointments.

I am interested in whether our decision to offload information is related to our evaluations of ability on the task – a form of metacognition.

What did you do using Gorilla?

We investigated the role of metacognitive evaluation on cognitive offloading in a memory task. Our hypothesis was that metacognition should affect our offloading decisions during both memory encoding and retrieval. Specifically, we hypothesized that:

(a) people would choose to save studied items when they believed it was difficult to recall the items in future;

(b) they would ask for help from external sources during retrieval when they were not confident about their internal memory.

We used Gorilla to collect data in two experiments of our paper (Experiments 2b and 3). We asked participants to learn word pairs, and they could choose to save some pairs into computer. In a later memory test, they could decide whether to ask for help from the computer. They would receive hints at a small cost if they chose to ask for help for saved pairs. Before the test for each pair, participants also rated their confidence about recalling the pair.

“Confidence about memory (rather than memory performance itself) is a key factor in driving offloading decisions.”

What did you find?

We found support for both of our hypotheses, and accommodated our findings by developing a Bayesian computational model in which participants’ evaluation of internal memory ability was negatively correlated with their beliefs about the performance boost gained from hints.

Together our findings highlight a close link between metacognition and cognitive offloading, suggesting that confidence about memory (rather than memory performance itself) is a key factor in driving offloading decisions.

What was your study protocol?

In the experiment, I first used two questionnaires to collect consent forms and demographic data. Then I used a task to check whether participants entered fullscreen mode. Next participants performed six tasks to practice the encoding and retrieval phase in the experiment.

Before the formal experiment, I used a Randomiser to randomly allocate participants into two conditions because font color in the confidence rating task was counterbalanced across participants. Finally, participants finished the formal experiment, and I used a Repeat node to repeat the experimental procedure in three blocks.

What real-world problem do you see that your research could impact?

The use of cognitive offloading during learning is increasingly ubiquitous due to the rapid development of technology. By understanding when and how people rely on these external tools during learning, psychologists and educators can guide people towards more effective use of modern technologies to maximise their benefit for memory performance.

Did you include any special features in your study to ensure good quality data? If so, what did you do?

To make sure participants understood the experimental procedure, we divided the practice stage into several short blocks and asked participants to separately practice each phase of the task.

We also set exclusion criteria and planned to remove participants with very low memory performance or short response times (fortunately all of our participants passed these exclusion criteria).

In addition, we incentivized people to engage with the task by paying them bonus money based on their performance in memory test.

Has this study been published?

The study has been published in Cognition. You can find it here.

“I was able to collect pilot data online in only a few hours and then make revisions on the tasks based on these results within one or two days.”

What is the most exciting piece of work or research you’ve ever done?

I am most excited about the study I describe here. I carried out this work under the supervision of Dr. Steve Fleming when I was a visiting student at the Wellcome Centre for Human Neuroimaging, University College London. It was a really great experience for me to work with Steve. He taught me how to combine computational modelling and behavioural experiments when studying metacognition.

What is the biggest advantage of online research methods?

The ability to collect a large amount of data from a representative participant pool within a very short time.

How do you think online research is going to change your field?

With online research tools, I can work from home and yet still collect large amounts of data within a matter of hours. This will speed up the throughput and reliability of psychological science. It is also possible to build online experiments and then use mobile devices (e.g. tablets) to collect data from a large number of participants in a field study (such as testing children in classroom), which has important implications for developmental and educational psychology.

How did Gorilla make your life or research better, easier or faster?

In Gorilla, it was very convenient to clone previous experiments and then revise the experimental procedure in task builder. I was able to collect pilot data online in only a few hours and then make revisions on the tasks based on these results within one or two days. The commit history was also useful for keeping track of what revisions I had made.

For you, what is the stand-out feature in Gorilla?

The task builder is very easy to understand and convenient to use. I can also add scripts to make the tasks more flexible (such as linking stimuli across tasks or entering fullscreen mode).

What improvements would you like to see in Gorilla to make your research easier?

It would be great to provide introductory tutorials (or links to relevant tutorials) on Javascript to allow advanced users to modify scripts from the examples in task builder.

Response from Gorilla:

Hi Xiao,

We completely agree! We have lots of example scripts here, and they are very well commented, but they aren’t searchable. We also have some basic information about the key functions here but it’s not complete.

We hope to write a more complete guide in the next few months.

Until then, the best thing to do is to contact the support desk and we can either point you in the right direction or help out!

Who or what originally inspired you to work in your field of research?

My supervisor, Dr. Liang Luo, who has guided me a lot about how to design and conduct experiments in the field of metamemory.

If you could interview any researcher (alive or dead), who would it be and why?

Dr. Asher Koriat, who has proposed a series of important theories about metamemory process, and is one of the greatest leaders in the field of metamemory.

When you're not working, what do you enjoy doing?

I enjoy reading philosophy and history books, and also Japanese comics (I am a big fan of One Piece).

Are there any online courses, podcasts, discussion groups or resources that you’d recommend to others?

I would like to recommend a course about Bayesian statistics on Cousera named Bayesian Statistics: From Concept to Data Analysis, which is a good introduction for people who are interested in Bayesian statistics but not sure where to start.

What science book have you read recently that you'd recommend to others?

Forty Studies That Changed Psychology by Roger R. Hock. This book provides a summary of important studies that have impacted the field of psychology.

Screenshot of the cover of the Forty Studies That Changed Psychology book

Subscribe to Gorilla Grants

We regularly run grants to help researchers and lecturers get their projects off the ground. Sign up to get notified when new grants become available