Cognitive Failure Essay

Cognitive Failure Essay.

Cognitive failure is defined as absent-mindedness, that is, mistakes or errors people make because of slips of attention or memory failure (Reason and Mycielska, 1982). Their origin has been traced to memory problems, attention problems errors in the implementation of intentions or errors caused by distractions. It also involves clumsiness and problems in social interactions or problems in processing information. Mostly students are prone to experience cognitive failure.

If a person continues to experience cognitive failure, his or her brain may experience problems and difficulties in coping with the processing of thoughts.

Mathematical ability is probably the most important asset that a student should have. This study will identify if there is an existing relationship between the cognitive failure of the 3rd year students and their mathematical ability. These variables will guide the researchers into finding the answer to their problem.

With the dedication and the perseverance of the researches, this study hopes to educate the students in assessing their cognitive failure and how to avoid it.

Statement of the Problem

This research study aims to investigate the relationship between cognitive failure of the 3rd year students and their mathematical ability. Specifically, this study aims to answer the following questions: 1. What is the current level of cognitive failure of 3rd year students as measured by the Cognitive Failure Questionnaire? 2. What is the current level of mathematical ability in Geometry among 3rd year students? 3. What is the relationship between Cognitive Failure of the 3rd year students and their mathematical ability?

Statement of the Hypothesis

Null Hypothesis: There is no significant relationship between Cognitive Failure of the 3rd year students and their mathematical ability. Alternative Hypothesis: There is a significant relationship between Cognitive Failure of the 3rd year students and their mathematical ability.

Scope and Delimitation

This study focuses on the typical conditions pertaining to cognitive failure such as lack of attention and memory loss which affects student’s mathematical ability. The age and gender of the students were not considered as a factor in this study.

This study limits its coverage on the third year students of Saint John of Beverley. Its main purpose is to prove if cognitive failure has a relationship with their capabilities in answering a mathematical ability test and to propose possible solutions regarding these problems. Each of the respondents is given the Cognitive Failure Questionnaires and a mathematical ability test to answer. Data gathered will be treated using the coefficient of correlation to determine the relationship or non-relationship existing between the variables of the study.

Definition of Terms

1. Cognition – refers on how the human brain process thoughts and information. 2. Cognitive Failure – the state of being absent-minded person and consequently committing mistakes or errors because of slips of attention or memory failure and errors cause by interference. It is measured by using the Cognitive Failure Questionnaire. 3. Mathematical ability – scores gathered by the students in answering the mathematical ability test. It is considered as a task in this study, not the subject Math. 4. Mathematical ability test – refers to the 20 item test that the researchers used to identify the scores of the 3rd year students. 5. Cognitive Failure Questionnaire – pertains to the questionnaire designed by Broadbent, Cooper, FitzGerald and Parkes on 1982 to evaluate the cognitive failure score of an individual person. 6. Social Desirability Bias – it is the tendency of respondents to reply in a manner that will be viewed favorably by others. (Wikipedia)


The literature review for this thesis supports the variables being studied. It also provides the readers with a brief background regarding cognitive failure and its different branches.

Cognitive Failure

The researchers define cognitive failure as a cognitively based error that occurs during the performance of a task that the person is normally successful in executing. Cognitive failure encompasses execution lapses in: (a) attention (i.e. failures in perception), (b) memory (i.e. failures related to information retrieval), and (c) motor function (i.e. the performance of unintended actions, or action slips) (Martin, 1983 c.f. Wallace, J. Craig; Chen, Gilad, 2005). When cognitive failure occurs, people’s execution of a task is unintentionally affected.

Though this failure was not caused by the lack of ability of a certain individual and the level of difficulty of the task, the lapses that we are talking about is when the ability is present and the task is incredibly simple (Reason, 1977). Cognitive failure somehow related to cognitive factors such as overload of short-term memory capacity, reduced attention and vigilance level, incidental learning, and divided attention (Broadbent, Cooper, Fitzgerald, and Parkes, 1982).

Throughout the years, researchers have identified several factors of cognitive failure based on the Cognitive Failures Questionnaire (Broadbent et al., 1982). Matthews, Coyle, and Craig presented a seven factor regarding cognitive failures which are physical clumsiness, people’s names, planned social interaction, language, lack of concentration, absentmindedness, and a final factor based on 1 item from the CFQ. Nevertheless, insufficient number of items for several factors made Matthews et al. to limit them into two, General Cognitive Failure and recall of people’s names, which are similar to those of the findings of Larson, Alderton, Neideffer, and Underhill, (1997) where they, too, identified two general factors of cognitive failure, general cognitive failure and name processing (Matthews et al. 1990).

Another group of researchers have identified five factors namely distractibility, misdirected actions, spatial/kinaesthetic memory, interpersonal intelligence, and memory for names (Pollina, Greene, Tunick and Puckett, 1992). For this study, the researchers followed the three factors of Cognitive failure, attention lapses, memory lapses and interference (errors caused by distraction or action slips) which are widely known and have been proven by many researchers (Reason, 1977; Norman, 1981; Broadbent et al., 1982; Mycielska, 1982; Martin, 1983). The said factors will be thoroughly discussed in this chapter.

Memory Lapses

Often times, you may experience forgetting something and having difficulty recalling it. This prove that memory is a vital factor of cognition. Memory is the heart of human intellectual functioning and consequently is involve in all processes and from perception to reasoning (Reed, 2004). Without memory, it is impossible for us to exist in the world. Tulving reveals that memory is an important basis in making plans for the future (1985). To make things short, memory is everything.

A research study entitled “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information” states that: “People are limited in the number of items they can keep active in memory and that this limited capacity influence their performance on a variety of tasks” (Miller, 1956 c.f. Reed, 1996). There are two kinds of memory storage. Short term memory (STM) and Long term memory (LTM). STM can only hold a limited number of items.

If information isn’t rehearsed for about 20 – 30 seconds, it will be forgotten by the STM. The brain can also choose to place information at LTM, but the problem is the difficulty of recalling it as time passed by (Atkinson and Shiffrin, 1971 c.f. Reed, 1996). A good example for this scenario is when you went to a shop to buy something. If you are not rehearsing the items you want to buy, there is a possibility that you may forget it. If it is thoroughly rehearsed and was placed in LTM, there may be an instance when you cannot recall those items that you rehearsed.

Retrieval of information depends between the original experience and the attempt to remember. It means that the older the memory, the more likely it is to be forgotten. This concept is what we called retention interval (Ebbinghaus, 1964 c.f. Reed, 1996) For example, the item number 12 in the CFQ “Do you find you forget which way to turn on road you know but rarely use?” Since that you rarely used that road, the original experience may be ages ago from your attempt to recall it, therefore memory is loss.

Attention Lapses

Basically, there are two characteristics of attention – focalization and concentration (James, 1890 c.f. Reed, 1996). Focalization implies selectivity. Selective attention is common among people. We tend to ignore things that aren’t interesting to us. For example, students find it more favorable to day dream than to listen to the teacher’s boring lesson.

In the study entitled “Absent-mindedness: Lapses of conscious awareness and everyday cognitive failures” states that: Our results suggest that momentary lapses of conscious awareness of our actions have pervasive effects on the efficient, effective conduct of every day activity as well as on our affective well being (Cheyne, Carriere and Smilek, 2006).

This study proves that being an absentmindedness person surely has an effect on ones performance in task. In our previous example about day dreaming, when the teacher decided to have a quiz about the discussed topic, the student who wasn’t paying attention to the discussion may get low score on the quiz.

The second aspect of attention is concentration. Imagine that you are doing a laborious project and somebody is talking to you, the message relayed to you by that person will be ignored by the brain. As long as your attention is clearly focused on what you are doing, other stimulus trying to penetrate your will be blocked.

Several researchers come up with those they call bottleneck theories. These theories attempt to explain how people select information some information processing stage becomes overloaded with too much information (Reed, 1996). One of the theories proposed by Broadbent is the Filter Model. It shows how an important is chosen from several overloading information. An example of this is when you came to a shop to buy something. At first, it’s really hard to see the things you need to buy because of all the other items in the shop.

Action Slips

Another factor of cognitive failure is action slips. Action slips are absentminded errors in action. There are several characteristic of action slips: ● They usually occur during the performance of tasks that are so highly practiced they are largely automatic. ● They usually occur when we are preoccupied or distracted. ● Many involve intrusions of other habitual actions that share some characteristics with the intended action. ● Such habit intrusions are more likely to occur when:

● We’re departing in some way from our usual routine (for example, you decide to stop adding milk and sugar to your coffee, then finding yourself doing it automatically). ● The situation has changed, demanding a change in our usual routine (for example, a much-visited shop moves premises, but you keep going to its old location). ● The situation shares features with a highly familiar situation (for example, you try and open a friend’s car with your own car key).

Other types of action slips are:

● Place-losing errors – where you’ve lost your “place” in an action sequence, and so omit or repeat part of the sequence (for example, because of wheat sensitivities in my family, I make our own bread; accordingly, it is a highly practiced recipe, and I add all the ingredients in a fixed order. If something happens to distract me in the course of it, I may be unsure where I am in the sequence, and risk omitting or repeating an ingredient). ● Blends – where you get confused between two active tasks (for example, you write an email while thinking about the next email you’re going to write, and address the current email to the correspondent for the second email). ● Reversals – where you get confused between parts of the same task (for example, you put an empty ice cube tray in the freezer, and then turn to the tap to fill it).

You can see from all this that these everyday errors occur in the context of action sequences – that is, sequences of actions that we have practiced so often they have become automatic. Dressing, undressing, washing, making coffee or tea, even making quite complicated recipes – these are all common examples of action sequences (

Mathematical Ability and Cognitive Failure

Mathematics is the essence of cognition. It is thinking (dual coding) with numbers, imagery and language; reading/spelling is thinking with letters, imagery and language (Bell and Tuley, 2003).

Cognitive Failure Essay

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