Measuring physician cognitive load: validity evidence for a physiologic and a psychometric tool

Adam Szulewski, Andreas Gegenfurtner, Daniel W. Howes*, Marco L. A. Sivilotti, Jeroen J. G. van Merrienboer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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In general, researchers attempt to quantify cognitive load using physiologic and psychometric measures. Although the construct measured by both of these metrics is thought to represent overall cognitive load, there is a paucity of studies that compares these techniques to one another. The authors compared data obtained from one physiologic tool (pupillometry) to one psychometric tool (Paas scale) to explore whether they actually measured the construct of cognitive load as purported. Thirty-two participants with a range of resuscitation medicine experience and expertise completed resuscitation-medicine based multiple-choice-questions as well as arithmetic questions. Cognitive load, as measured by both tools, was found to be higher for the more difficult questions as well as for questions that were answered incorrectly (p <0.001). The group with the least medical experience had higher cognitive load than both the intermediate and experienced groups when answering domain-specific questions (p = 0.023 and p = 0.003 respectively for the physiologic tool; p = 0.006 and p <0.001 respectively for the psychometric tool). There was a strong positive correlation (Spearman's rho = 0.827, p <0.001 for arithmetic questions; Spearman's rho = 0.606, p <0.001 for medical questions) between the two cognitive load measurement tools. These findings support the validity argument that both physiologic and psychometric metrics measure the construct of cognitive load.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)951-968
Number of pages18
JournalAdvances in Health Sciences Education
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2017


  • Cognitive load
  • Expertise
  • Eye-tracking
  • Psychometrics
  • Pupillometry
  • Resuscitation
  • Validity


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