A strange thing happened at our monthly cousin’s lunch.
After we all had arrived, Dave, Doug, Wayne, Janna, Jerry, Jeff, and myself, a waitress came and asked what we would like to drink. She could have offered suggestions, a menu of drink options, but she didn’t increasing the cognitive load1 on each of us.
She started with Doug. He usually just has water, and so It was no surprise when he confirmed that water was all he needed.
What happened next was surprising. Doug had made it easy to avoid the additional mental effort needed to decide on a drink with his choice of water. Wayne seated next to Doug also ordered water and then Jerry joined them “Water,” he said. Janna sitting next to Jerry echoed his choice of water. Jeff, Jerry’s son, paused but kept the water flowing.
I couldn’t believe it. Did they believe the eight glasses of water a day myth? Had they forgotten that coffee has water too, and a nice little kick of caffeine. Iced tea and diet coke are also mostly water, hell even a potato is mainly water. Maybe they were trying to save a buck. The water is free.
I was having none of it. “I’ll have a diet coke and coffee, and a beer,” I said.
My order lightened the cognitive load and opened the floodgates.
I’ll have coffee with cream,” Janna gushed.
Jeff seized the opportunity and ordered a diet coke.
David, amused by the unexpected turnaround, began requesting order changes from others. Jerry decided tea would be dandy.
The waitress looked confused, it had gone from the simple cascade of water orders to an out of order babbling of other beverage choices. My work done, I canceled the beer and the diet coke and confirmed that I take my coffee black.
Jerry, seeing the waitress panicking, promised to sort out the orders when they arrived. She looked relieved.
The difficult work of deciding on drinks behind us we relaxed.
cognitive load refers to the total amount of mental effort being used in the working memory. ↩