Multitasking poses a major challenge in modern work environments by putting the worker under cognitive load. Performance decrements often occur when people are under high cognitive load because they switch to less demanding—and often less accurate—cognitive strategies. Although cognitive load disturbs performance over a wide range of tasks, it may also carry benefits. In the experiments reported here, we showed that judgment performance can increase under cognitive load. Participants solved a multiple-cue judgment task in which high performance could be achieved by using a similarity-based judgment strategy but not by using a more demanding rule-based judgment strategy. Accordingly, cognitive load induced a shift to a similarity-based judgment strategy, which consequently led to more accurate judgments. By contrast, shifting to a similarity-based strategy harmed judgments in a task best solved by using a rule-based strategy. These results show how important it is to consider the cognitive strategies people rely on to understand how people perform in demanding work environments.
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