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What is Cognitive Feedback and Why Does It Matter?

Humans are incredibly social creatures. We thrive off interactions with each other, working in groups, and coexisting with other humans. A huge part of our interactions with each other is based on feedback from other people.

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One important type of feedback is cognitive feedback. Cognitive feedback is often used in teaching and in the workplace to ensure that students and employees are on-task and motivated to maximize performance. Let’s talk a little about how to use cognitive feedback to your benefit when working in groups or leading your peers.

So, what is cognitive feedback? The general explanation that social psychologists use for cognitive feedback is a process of presenting someone with information about the connections in their environment and their perceptions of that environment in relation to what they are doing. In simpler terms, cognitive feedback is the feedback we get from someone regarding how well we performed a task. That can be something as simple as an acknowledgment of your effort or it can be as complex as an end-of-the-year report from your boss.

Both the level and the type of cognitive feedback are important factors that contribute to how useful that feedback is. Psychologists have divided cognitive feedback into three categories: task information, cognitive information, and functional validity information.

  • Task Information (TI) is a form of cognitive feedback that provides information about the environment and generally is infused by the judgment or opinion of the person giving the feedback. Receiving TI feedback allows you to make connections between your own actions and what the other person expects from you.

  • Cognitive Information (CI) provides feedback on your cognitive strategy. It is essentially feedback that analyzes how you approached your task.

  • Functional Validity Information (FVI) refers to feedback that is a prediction or review of the success of your strategy.

Let’s look at an example of these three types of feedback in action. Let’s say your boss told you to predict the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. After you do your research and compile your information, you go to your boss with your prediction. Your boss then gives you cognitive feedback about your work.

The TI feedback would be if your boss told you how he/she would have completed the task, the differences between his/her personal approach and yours, and recommendations of how to approach such a task in the future. The CI feedback would be if your boss reviewed your strategy for picking a winner and told you whether or not you were doing a good job. The FVI feedback would be to wait until after the election and compare your prediction to the actual result.

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Which type of feedback do you think is the most helpful?

Studies have shown that task information feedback is consistently the most useful type of feedback. But why is that?

Psychologists speculate that task information feedback provides the most concrete path to improvement. Also, when you receive TI feedback, you are exposed to the perspective and opinion of another person, which can serve to supplement your own understanding or approach for the task.

So, how does this information help us in the workplace? The next time you are asking for feedback from your boss or coworkers, consider a request for their personal input and ask them how they would approach the problem. Or, if you are leading the group, try to provide feedback that focuses on strategy as opposed to the predicted success or performance.

However, it is important to remember that each person’s brain is different and the same type of feedback that you prefer might not be what someone else wants. The next time you find yourself faced with receiving or providing feedback, keep in mind cognitive feedback, and give these strategies a try.


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