In cognitive psychology, cognitive load refers to the effort being used in the working memory. Cognitive load theory differentiates cognitive load into three types: intrinsic, extraneous, and germane.
Intrinsic cognitive load is the effort associated with a specific topic, extraneous cognitive load refers to the way information or tasks are presented to a learner, and germane cognitive load refers to the work put into creating a permanent store of knowledge, or a schema.
Cognitive load theory was developed in the late 1980s out of a study of problem solving by John Sweller. Sweller argued that instructional design can be used to reduce cognitive load in learners. Much later, other researchers developed a way to measure perceived mental effort which is indicative of cognitive load. Task-invoked pupillary response is a reliable and sensitive measurement of cognitive load that is directly related to working memory. Heavy cognitive load can have negative effects on task completion, and it is important to note that the experience of cognitive load is not the same in everyone. The elderly, students, and children experience different, and more often higher, amounts of cognitive load.
High cognitive load in the elderly has been shown to affect their center of balance. With increased distractions, particularly from cell phone use, students are more prone to experiencing high cognitive load which can reduce academic success. Children have less general knowledge than adults which increases their cognitive load. Recent theoretical advances include the incorporation of embodied cognition in order to predict the cognitive load resulting from embodied interactions.