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A functional near-infrared spectroscopy study on the prefrontal correlates of cognitive offloading via a personal knowledge assistant

Christoph Geißler; Paula Gauselmann; Christian Jilek; Heiko Maus; Christian Frings; Tobias Tempel
In: Nature Scientific Reports (Sci Rep), Vol. 13, No. 13938, Pages 1-9, Springer Nature, 2023.


The saving of previously encoded information boosts both memory for subsequent information (saving-enhanced memory; SEM) as well as cognitive performance in general (saving-enhanced performance; SEP). These findings have been replicated in a setting that involves the assistance by an intelligent software that automatically structures and saves work content in an interactive sidebar. It is assumed that beneficial effects on cognitive performance due to (automatic) saving are caused by a reduction in current workload by means of cognitive offloading. We tested this assumption by measuring neural activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) via functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS)—once after saving and once after deleting of previously collected information that had to be recalled later-on. On a behavioral level, there was a brief benefit of saving. However, cognitive offloading became most apparent on a neural level: after saving, participants showed significantly lower activation in the right DLPFC. Also, the more participants benefited from cognitive offloading, the more they were able to re-access previously collected, saved information. Thus, fNIRS results indicated reduced mental load after saving, confirming the assumption that saving triggers cognitive offloading.


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