Changes in Cognition and Neurocognition when Thinking Aloud during Design

DS 122: Proceedings of the Design Society: 24th International Conference on Engineering Design (ICED23)

Year: 2023
Editor: Kevin Otto, Boris Eisenbart, Claudia Eckert, Benoit Eynard, Dieter Krause, Josef Oehmen, Nad
Author: Shealy, Tripp (1); Gero, John (2); Ignacio, Paulo (1); Song, Inuk (1)
Series: ICED
Institution: 1: Virginia Tech; 2: University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
Section: Design Methods
Page(s): 0867-0876
DOI number:


The think-aloud protocol provides researchers an insight into the designer’s mental state, but little is understood about how thinking aloud influences design. The study presented in this paper sets out to measure the cognitive and neurocognitive changes in designers when thinking aloud. Engineering students (n=50) were randomly assigned to the think-aloud or control group. Students were outfitted with a functional near-infrared spectroscopy band. Students were asked to design a personal entertainment system. The think-aloud group spent significantly less time designing. Their design sketches included significantly fewer words. The think-aloud group also required significantly more resources in the left and right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). The left DLPFC is often recruited for language processing, and the right DLPFC is involved in visual representation and problem-solving. The faster depletion of neurocognitive resources may have contributed to less time designing. Thinking aloud influences design cognition and neurocognition, but these effects are only now becoming apparent. More research and the adoption of neuroscience techniques can help shed light on these differences.

Keywords: Design cognition, Design methods, Design process, protocol analysis, fNIRS

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