As a scientist at the intersection of psychology, education, and computer science, I pursuit my vision of adaptively aligned intelligent educational technologies from an interdisciplinary perspective. I employ a broad range of methodological and analytical approaches to address underlying cognitive processes, potentially influencing learner characteristics, and situational factors such as distractions. My methodological portfolio spans the analysis of behavioral and physiological data, such as performance, speech characteristics, heart rate or galvanic skin response, as well as computational approaches to formalize and model human cognition, mainly related to the cognitive architecture ACT-R.
Since March 2020, I am heading the professorship for teaching and learning with intelligent systems at the University of Stuttgart. I am associated faculty at the IMPRS-IS and affiliated with the LEAD Graduate School & Research Network at the University of Tübingen. In November 2018, I joined the Rationality Enhancement Group to lead the development of an AI-based training application, which emerged in collaboration with the Software Workshop. My Ph.D. in Psychology was affiliated with the interdisciplinary Research Training Group "CrossWorlds" at the TU Chemnitz and sheds light on cognitive processes and mechanisms related to cognitive load in instructional scenarios. Prior to that, I completed the master's program in Human Factors at the TU Berlin and received a B.Sc. in Psychology from the University of Hagen. I further hold a diploma in Inclusive Education from the Protestant University of Applied Sciences in Bochum.
Cognitive load in instructional design - CogSci 2020 workshop on mental effort
Building on insights into how people learn how to think and how to decide (Lieder & Griffiths, 2017; Krueger, Lieder, & Griffiths, 2017; Lieder, Shenhav, Musslick, & Griffiths, 2018) and novel methods for discovering optimal cognitive str...
People's limited attentional resources are challenged by the high prevalence of potential distractors in daily life. How well people can cope with the arising demands is moderated by individual attention control abilities that have proven to mitigate potentially harmful effects (Wirzberger & Rey, 2018).
Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, July 2020 (conference) Accepted
To stay focused on their chosen tasks, people have to inhibit distractions. The underlying attention control skills can improve through reinforcement learning, which can be accelerated by giving feedback. We applied the theory of metacognitive reinforcement learning to develop a training app that gives people optimal feedback on their attention control while they are working or studying. In an eight-day field experiment with 99 participants, we investigated the effect of this training on people's productivity, sustained attention, and self-control. Compared to a control condition without feedback, we found that participants receiving optimal feedback learned to focus increasingly better (f = .08, p < .01) and achieved higher productivity scores (f = .19, p < .01) during the training. In addition, they evaluated their productivity more accurately (r = .12, p < .01). However, due to asymmetric attrition problems, these findings need to be taken with a grain of salt.
Trends in Neuroscience and Education, 20, pages: 100139, 2020 (article)
Background: The Cognitive Load Theory provides a well-established framework for investigating aspects of learning situations that demand learners’ working memory resources. However, the interplay of these aspects at the cognitive and neural level is still not fully understood.
Method: We developed four computational models in the cognitive architecture ACT-R to clarify underlying memory-related strategies and mechanisms. Our models account for human data of an experiment that required participants to perform a symbol sequence learning task with embedded interruptions. We explored the inclusion of subsymbolic mechanisms to explain these data and used our final model to generate fMRI predictions.
Results: The final model indicates a reasonable fit for reaction times and accuracy and links the fMRI predictions to the Cognitive Load Theory.
Conclusions: Our work emphasizes the influence of task characteristics and supports a process-related view on cognitive load in instructional scenarios. It further contributes to the discussion of underlying mechanisms at a neural level.
66th Spring Conference of the German Ergonomics Society, 2020 (conference)
Unser digitales Zeitalter lebt von Informationen und stellt unsere begrenzte Verarbeitungskapazität damit täglich auf die Probe. Gerade in der Wissensarbeit haben ständige Ablenkungen erhebliche Leistungseinbußen zur Folge. Unsere intelligente Anwendung ACTrain setzt genau an dieser Stelle an und verwandelt Computertätigkeiten in eine Trainingshalle für den Geist. Feedback auf Basis maschineller Lernverfahren zeigt anschaulich den Wert auf, sich nicht von einer selbst gewählten Aufgabe ablenken zu lassen. Diese metakognitive Einsicht soll zum Durchhalten motivieren und das zugrunde liegende Fertigkeitsniveau der Aufmerksamkeitskontrolle stärken. In laufenden Feldexperimenten untersuchen wir die Frage, ob das Training mit diesem optimalen Feedback die Aufmerksamkeits- und Selbstkontrollfertigkeiten im Vergleich zu einer Kontrollgruppe ohne Feedback verbessern kann.
41st Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, July 2019 (conference)
Online courses offer much-needed opportunities for lifelong self-directed learning, but people rarely follow through on their noble intentions to complete them. To increase student retention educational software often uses game elements to motivate students to engage in and persist in learning activities. However, gamification only works when it is done properly, and there is currently no principled method that educational software could use to achieve this. We develop a principled feedback mechanism for encouraging good study choices and persistence in self-directed learning environments. Rather than giving performance feedback, our method rewards the learner's efforts with optimal brain points that convey the value of practice. To derive these optimal brain points, we applied the theory of optimal gamification to a mathematical model of skill acquisition. In contrast to hand-designed incentive structures, optimal brain points are constructed in such a way that the incentive system cannot be gamed. Evaluating our method in a behavioral experiment, we find that optimal brain points significantly increased the proportion of participants who instead of exploiting an inefficient skill they already knew-attempted to learn a difficult but more efficient skill, persisted through failure, and succeeded to master the new skill. Our method provides a principled approach to designing incentive structures and feedback mechanisms for educational games and online courses. We are optimistic that optimal brain points will prove useful for increasing student retention and helping people overcome the motivational obstacles that stand in the way of self-directed lifelong learning.
52nd Annual Meeting of the Society for Mathematical Psychology, July 2019 (conference)
Stimulus-response learning constitutes an important part of human experience over the life course. Independent of the domain, it is characterized by changes in performance with increasing task progress. But what cognitive mechanisms are responsible for these changes and how do additional task requirements affect the related dynamics? To inspect that in more detail, we introduce a computational modeling approach that investigates performance-related changes in learning situations with reference to chunk activation patterns. It leverages the cognitive architecture ACT-R to model learner behavior in abstract stimulus-response learning in two conditions of task complexity. Additional situational demands are reflected in embedded secondary tasks that interrupt participants during the learning process. Our models apply an activation equation that also takes into account the association between related nodes of information and the similarity between potential responses. Model comparisons with two human datasets (N = 116 and N = 123 participants) indicate a good fit in terms of both accuracy and reaction times. Based on the existing neurophysiological mapping of ACT-R modules on defined human brain areas, we convolve recorded module activity into simulated BOLD responses to investigate underlying cognitive mechanisms in more detail. The resulting evidence supports the connection of learning effects in both task conditions with activation-related patterns to explain changes in performance.
40th Annual Meeting of the Society for Judgement and Decision Making, June 2019 (conference)
Many studies have investigated how goal characteristics affect goal achievement. However, most of them considered only a small number of characteristics and the psychometric properties of their measures remains unclear. To overcome these limitations, we developed and validated a comprehensive questionnaire of goal characteristics with four subscales - measuring the goal’s content, attainability, interestingness, and usefulness respectively. 590 participants completed the questionnaire online. A confirmatory factor analysis supported the four subscales and their structure. The GC questionnaire (https://osf.io/qfhup) can be easily applied to investigate goal setting, pursuit and adjustment in a wide range of contexts.
Beege, M., Wirzberger, M., Nebel, S., Schneider, S., Schmidt, N., Rey, G. D.
Frontiers in Education, 4:86, 2019 (article)
The split-attention effect refers to learning with related representations in multimedia. Spatial proximity and integration of these representations are crucial for learning processes. The influence of varying amounts of proximity between related and unrelated information has not yet been specified. In two experiments (N1 = 98; N2 = 85), spatial proximity between a pictorial presentation and text labels was manipulated (high vs. medium vs. low). Additionally, in experiment 1, a control group with separated picture and text presentation was implemented. The results revealed a significant effect of spatial proximity on learning performance. In contrast to previous studies, the medium condition leads to the highest transfer, and in experiment 2, the highest retention score. These results are interpreted considering cognitive load and instructional efficiency. Findings indicate that transfer efficiency is optimal at a medium distance between representations in experiment 1. Implications regarding the spatial contiguity principle and the spatial contiguity failure are discussed.
This thesis addresses ongoing controversies in cognitive load research related to the scope and interplay of resource-demanding factors in instructional situations on a temporal perspective. In a novel approach, it applies experimental task frameworks from basic cognitive research and combines different methods for assessing cognitive load and underlying cognitive processes. Taken together, the obtained evidence emphasizes a process-related reconceptualization of the existing theoretical cognitive load framework and underlines the importance of a multimethod-approach to continuous cognitive load assessment. On a practical side, it informs the development of adaptive algorithms and the learner-aligned design of instructional support and thus leverages a pathway towards intelligent educational assistants.
Wirzberger, M., Schmidt, R., Georgi, M., Hardt, W., Brunnett, G., Rey, G. D.
Scientific Reports, 9:8291, 2019 (article)
Observed influences of system response delay in spoken human-machine dialogues are rather ambiguous and mainly focus on perceived system quality. Studies that systematically inspect effects on cognitive performance are still lacking, and effects of individual characteristics are also often neglected. Building on benefits of cognitive training for decelerating cognitive decline, this Wizard-of-Oz study addresses both issues by testing 62 elderly participants in a dialogue-based memory training with a virtual agent. Participants acquired the method of loci with fading instructional guidance and applied it afterward to memorizing and recalling lists of German nouns. System response delays were randomly assigned, and training performance was included as potential mediator. Participants’ age, gender, and subscales of affinity for technology (enthusiasm, competence, positive and negative perception of technology) were inspected as potential moderators. The results indicated positive effects on recall performance with higher training performance, female gender, and less negative perception of technology. Additionally, memory retention and facets of affinity for technology moderated increasing system response delays. Participants also provided higher ratings in perceived system quality with higher enthusiasm for technology but reported increasing frustration with a more positive perception of technology. Potential explanations and implications for the design of spoken dialogue systems are discussed.
Rey, G. D., Beege, M., Nebel, S., Wirzberger, M., Schmitt, T., Schneider, S.
Educational Psychology Review, 2019 (article)
The segmenting effect states that people learn better when multimedia instructions are presented in (meaningful and coherent) learner-paced segments, rather than as continuous units. This meta-analysis contains 56 investigations including 88 pairwise comparisons and reveals a significant segmenting effect with small to medium effects for retention and transfer performance. Segmentation also reduces the overall cognitive load and increases learning time. These four effects are confirmed for a system-paced segmentation. The meta-analysis tests different explanations for the segmenting effect that concern facilitating chunking and structuring due to segmenting the multimedia instruction by the instructional designer, providing more time for processing the instruction and allowing the learners to adapt the presentation pace to their individual needs. Moderation analyses indicate that learners with high prior knowledge benefitted more from segmenting instructional material than learners with no or low prior knowledge in terms of retention performance.
Wirzberger, M., Herms, R., Esmaeili Bijarsari, S., Eibl, M., Rey, G. D.
Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications, 3:46, Springer Nature, 2018 (article)
Schema acquisition processes comprise an essential source of cognitive demands in learning situations. To shed light on related mechanisms and influencing factors, this study applied a continuous multi-measure approach for cognitive load assessment. In a dual-task setting, a sample of 123 student participants learned visually presented symbol combinations with one of two levels of complexity while memorizing auditorily presented number sequences. Learners’ cognitive load during the learning task was addressed by secondary task performance, prosodic speech parameters (pauses, articulation rate), and physiological markers (heart rate, skin conductance response). While results revealed increasing primary and secondary task performance over the trials, decreases in speech and physiological parameters indicated a reduction in the overall level of cognitive load with task progression. In addition, the robustness of the acquired schemata was confirmed by a transfer task that required participants to apply the obtained symbol combinations. Taken together, the observed pattern of evidence supports the idea of a logarithmically decreasing progression of cognitive load with increasing schema acquisition, and further hints on robust and stable transfer performance, even under enhanced transfer demands. Finally, theoretical and practical consequences consider evidence on desirable difficulties in learning as well as the potential of multimodal cognitive load detection in learning applications.
In Proceedings of the 11th International Language Resources and Evaluation Conference (LREC 2018), pages: 4312-4317, European Language Resource Association (ELRA), Miyazaki, Japan, 2018 (inproceedings)
Journal of Computers in Education, 5(2):243-257, Springer Nature, 2018 (article)
Learners exposed to multimedia learning contexts have to deal with a variety of visual stimuli, demanding a conducive design of learning material to maintain limitations in attentional resources. Within the current study, effects and constraints arising from two selected impairing features are investigated in more detail within a computer-based learning task on factor analysis. A sample of 53 students received a combination of textual and pictorial elements that explained the topic, while impaired attention was systematically induced in a 2 × 2 factorial between-subjects design by interrupting system-notifications (with vs. without) and seductive text passages (with vs. without). Learners’ ability for controlled attention was assessed with a standardized psychological attention inventory. Approaching the results, learners receiving seductive text passages spent significantly more time on the learning material. In addition, a moderation effect of attention control abilities on the relationship between interruptions and retention performance resulted. Explanations for the obtained findings are discussed referring to mechanisms of compensation, load, and activation.
Arousal has been found to increase learners' attentional resources. In contrast, seductive details (interesting but learning‐irrelevant information) are considered to distract attention away from relevant information and, thus, hinder learning. However, a possibly moderating role of arousal on the seductive detail effect has not been examined yet. In this study, arousal variations were induced via audio files of false heartbeats. In consequence, 100 participants were randomly assigned to a 2 (with or without seductive details) × 2 (lower vs. higher false heart rates) between‐subjects design. Data on learning performance, cognitive load, motivation, heartbeat frequency, and electro‐dermal activity were collected. Results show learning‐inhibiting effects for seductive details and learning‐enhancing effects for higher false heart rates. Cognitive processes mediate both effects. However, the detrimental effect of seductive details was not present when heart rate was higher. Results indicate that the seductive detail effect is moderated by a learner's state of arousal.
In Advances in Ergonomic Design of Systems, Products and Processes. Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the GfA 2015, pages: 463-475, Springer, 2016 (inbook)
Simulation-based driver training offers a promising way to teach ecological driving behavior under controlled, comparable conditions. In a study with 23 professional drivers, we tested the effectiveness of such training. The driving behavior of a training group in a simulated drive with and without instructions were compared. Ten weeks later, a repetition drive tested the long-term effect training. Driving data revealed reduced fuel consumption by ecological driving in both the guided and repetition drives. Driving time decreased significantly in the training and did not differ from driving time after 10 weeks. Results did not achieve significance for transfer to test drives in real traffic situations. This may be due to the small sample size and biased data as a result of unusual driving behavior. Finally, recent and promising approaches to support drivers in maintaining eco-driving styles beyond training situations are outlined.
In multimedia learning settings, limitations in learners' mental resource capacities need to be considered to avoid impairing effects on learning performance. Based on the prominent and often quoted Cognitive Load Theory, this study investigates the potential of a single experimental approach to provide simultaneous and separate measures for the postulated load-inducing factors. Applying a basal letter-learning task related to the process of working memory updating, intrinsic cognitive load (by varying task complexity), extraneous cognitive load (via inducing split-attention demands) and germane cognitive load (by varying the presence of schemata) were manipulated within a 3 × 2 × 2-factorial full repeated-measures design. The performance of a student sample (N = 96) was inspected regarding reaction times and errors in updating and recall steps. Approaching the results with linear mixed models, the effect of complexity gained substantial strength, whereas the other factors received at least partial significant support. Additionally, interactions between two or all load-inducing factors occurred. Despite various open questions, the study comprises a promising step for the empirical investigation of existing construction yards in cognitive load research.
i-com, 14(2), Walter de Gruyter GmbH, 2015 (article)
This research aims to inspect human cognition when being interrupted while performing a smartphone task with varying levels of mental demand. Due to its benefits especially in the early stages of interface development, a cognitive modeling approach is used. It applies the cognitive architecture ACT-R to shed light on task-related cognitive processing. The inspected task setting involves a shopping scenario, manipulating interruption via product advertisements and mental demands by the respective number of people shopping is done for. Model predictions are validated through a corresponding experimental setting with 62 human participants. Comparing model and human data in a defined set of performance-related parameters displays mixed results that indicate an acceptable fit – at least in some cases. Potential explanations for the observed differences are discussed at the end.
Based on a time course model of interruption and resumption, the current thesis aims to inspect cognitive processes after being interrupted by product advertisements while performing a shopping task with a smartphone application. In doing so, different levels of mental workload, which are assumed to influence human performance as well as resumption strategy choice in this context, are taken into account. Within the applied research approach, cognitive modeling in the framework of the cognitive architecture ACT-R is combined with the development of a corresponding experimental design. The derived model predictions are validated with a 2x3-factorial design that includes repeated measures upon the second factor, and consists of 62 human participants. In detail, the influence of mental workload (high vs. low) and interruption (no vs. low vs. high) on various aspects of task-related performance and the applied resumption strategy is assessed. While the inspected performance parameters and resumption strategy choice usually point towards the expected direction for the model data, a converse pattern for the human data shows up in most cases. Comparing model and human data for each level of workload displays rather mixed results that are discussed afterwards. An outline of potential expansions and toeholds for future research within and beyond the mobile sector forms the completion of the thesis.
In Media Psychology: Media Research: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. Proceedings of the 8th Conference of the Media Psychology Division of the German Psychological Society, pages: 11, University of Würzburg, Würzburg, 2013 (inproceedings)
Our goal is to understand the principles of Perception, Action and Learning in autonomous systems that successfully interact with complex environments and to use this understanding to design future systems