The impact of cognitive load on climbing and climbing on cognitive performance

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Department of Cognitive and Learning Sciences


Objective: We examined the impact of increasing cognitive load on climbing performance and the impact of climbing on concurrent cognitive task performance. Background: Generally when two tasks are performed simultaneously performance of one or both suffers relative to performance of each alone. Such dual task decrement is not confined to competing cognitive tasks, but has also been found when one task involves demanding physical activity. Method: Skilled climbers performed a traverse climb alone and in combination with low and high cognitive load counting tasks, which were also performed alone. Results: In more realistic physical settings, physical and cognitive tasks will interfere, unlike what some literature using laboratory physical tasks may indicate. Conclusion: Compared to single task (climb only) performance concurrent counting and climbing resulted in impaired performance. However, climbers appeared to prioritize climbing over cognitive task performance. Application: The results and this program of research have implications for occupations that involve concurrent demanding physical activity and cognitive task performance. Précis: High risk, physical tasks in real world conditions appear to hinder cognitive performance more so than low-risk physical tasks carried out in laboratory conditions.

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Applied Ergonomics