Xiao Hu
May 2020

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 do 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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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).

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.

Xiao Hu
Memory, metacognition, computational modelling
PhD student
Beijing Normal University
Xiao Hu

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