Cognitive Modeling Explained

Cognitive modeling is an attempt to approximate the period of time consumed by cognitive processes. This will aid in the estimation of how long people take to perform a certain operation. The foundation of such models is the psychological principles and experimental research in order to determine the time used by human cognitive processes and motor functions.

Such models are important in that they can be used to improve user interface as well as predict probable human-related errors and omissions that can occur during a design process. Major cognitive modelings are as follows:

Parallel Design Modeling 

With this type of modeling, a team of designers is given the task of producing an initial design along certain set requirements. The team members are supposed to work individually and only once they have finished are they allowed to share their unique concepts. Each member’s design solution is analyzed and the best ones are chosen. All members are then required to use these best ideas to improve their own work. This process undergoes several iterations until the team settles for one final design concept.

GOMS Modeling

GOMS is an acronym for goals, operator methods and selection rules. This kind of cognitive modeling employs a set of techniques to analyze the complexity associated with interactive systems in regard to the user. Goals are the objectives that the user intends to achieve. Operator is a step followed in order to get to the goal. A method is the order of the operators. Finally, selection rules help to ascertain the method that best achieves the goals considering the prevailing conditions.

Keystroke Level Modeling

This is similar to GOMS except that it is less comprehensive and works by making general assumptions so as to save on time and reduce complexity. It comprises of 11 steps that can be engaged by companies seeking to establish the average times taken to accomplish certain tasks using a computer.

Human Processor Modeling

This cognitive modeling method breaks down an operation into the specific cognitive processes associated with it. The average time taken for each process is then determined; for example, the average time for eye movement is 230 milliseconds. In this way, researchers identify the specific areas that can be improved. A deeper knowledge base of the brain processes is essential.

Usability Inspection and Testing Model

A researcher would want to establish the time taken for a specific task by observing the user at work. This is the usability inspection modeling technique. It finds application especially where other modeling techniques cannot be used. Low cost and its ease in application makes it a popular technique in businesses. Also, it yields more empirical data.

The above method should not be confused with the user testing modeling type where the usability of an interface on users is evaluated on its actual users. It is a measure of a human-tailored product’s ability to accomplish its intended mission.

Other forms of cognitive modeling techniques include the card sorting (helps in grouping website information for easier user retrieval), heuristic evaluation (applied in engineering to examine an interface using known usability principles), ethnographic analysis (applied in field study to determine possible field distracters to a product’s user) and pluralistic inspection (a meeting of users and developers to evaluate a products’ user interface properties) among others.


Jessica is the Lead Author & Editor of UsabilityLab Blog. Jessica writes for the UsabilityLab blog to create a source for news and discussion about some of the issues, challenges, news, and ideas relating to usability.