Activity: Cognitive Diary

Due in class 1/22

The goal of this project is two-fold. First, you will learn to think about the nature of cognitive tasks in everyday life and how they can be analyzed. Be sure to make use of the ideas from the main readings.


  1. Keep a “cognitive diary” for an entire day. Whenever you engage in some kind of cognitive task – i.e., something that requires you to think, plan, remember, or problem-solve – try to notice it and make a record of it (jot it down, dictate to tape recorder, etc.). You are not required to turn in the diary itself, but you are required to do one.
  2. Choose an everyday cognitive activity from your diary to describe in detail. Choose carefully. Keep it small and simple. It may be part of your job, or part of a recreational activity, or part of your everyday routine. It should be something that you would have done even if you were not taking this class. Do not attempt to describe a personal relationship, or a private activity, or your reasoning about it. Do not attempt to design an “experiment.” Don’t worry about how representative the activity is.
  3. Describe the cognitive activity as carefully as you can. Begin by describing only those things that can be seen “from the outside,” i.e., could be captured on video or described by an observer. What is “cognitive” about the activity, based on the description of “cognitive” from the readings? Some of the questions you might be able to answer include the following: What function does the cognitive activity perform? How does the activity take advantage of or interact with structure in the environment? Is the activity a common routine, and if so, in what ways? Look for cognitive shortcuts – ways of making a complicated computation into a simple one. Minimize or avoid first-personal descriptions of “what is going through my mind” or “what was going on in my head.” Such things are not available to cognitive researchers, and you may know much less about them than you think!

Turn in a typed description that includes the following:

The Activity: What is the activity being described?

Description: Careful and detailed description of the activity.

Maximum 800 words of text. Additional figures, sketches, images and so on, e.g. structure that was used in the environment, are not included in the page count.

Your job is to produce a document that makes it easy for us to see that you did the reading, thought about the issues, and did some real research. Work on making it concise. Please proofread your papers.

Credit to Ed Hutchins from whom I’ve adapted this project idea and taken some of the text for the directions.

2 thoughts on “Activity: Cognitive Diary

  1. Pingback: Traditions in Psychology and Cognitive Science – 1/22 | Matthew J. Brown

  2. Pingback: Reminders & Tips for Writing Assignments | Matthew J. Brown

Leave a Reply