Common sense and cognitive science: Is there a link? Most people have some common sense and it’s vital in our day to day life. But sometimes it’s important to link our common sense with cognitive science.  This is especially true when we are involved with any kind of academic learning.  And it has one very powerful effect!



In this blog the focus is on REAL Thinking and Learning about Common Sense and Cognitive Science.

Keep the focus question in mind while you read the blog so that you can become more aware of how you can link your common sense with cognitive science. Then you can apply your key insights in your personal or professional life.



Common sense is vital for day to day life. But when you are involved with any academic related work, common sense, facts and evidence are important and often essential.



This section gives some information or evidence that inspired me and I want you to also find something that inspires you.

1.  Cognitive science sounds overwhelming but it’s fascinating!

Cognitive science sounds a bit overwhelming but the more you know about it, the more fascinating it becomes.

What’s surprising is that you can sometimes link your common sense with cognitive science.  And, when that happens it has one very powerful effect!

2.  What’s cognitive science?

It’s a very broad discipline within psychology. According to Inner Drive cognitive science is the study of cognition which refers to the mental processes involved with acquiring and understanding information.

These processes can include perceiving, remembering, reasoning, problem solving, learning, etc. They’re mental processes children and adults use every day.

3. Why is cognitive science helpful?

Cognitive Science is helpful as it aims to explain complex mental processes and enables us to understand the mind.  It’s basically research to understand learning, memory, and the brain.

What’s even more helpful is that cognitive science is an interdisciplinary study.  Experts from various disciplines are interested in cognitive science and the brain and therefore we find research from psychology, neuroscience, computer science, linguistics, etc.

4. How can we broadly classify cognitive science?

The Education Endowment Foundation refers to basic cognitive science and applied cognitive science.

There’s more research about basic cognitive science that typically uses experiments in controlled conditions done by researchers.

Applied cognitive science refers to cognitive science as applied in the classroom or in an intervention type situation to improve learning of children and young people.  Less research about applied cognitive science is however available.

5. What’s common sense?

Most of us have some common sense.  According to Merriam-Webster this means that you have sound and good judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts   Or, you have a natural ability to make good judgments and to behave in a practical and sensible manner.

As a parent, teacher, professional or employer, we often make good judgements or naturally behave in an appropriate way. Often, we can’t however explain the reasons for our common sense thinking and behaviour.  

6. One powerful effect when common sense is linked with cognitive science

If someone questions you or if you must motivate your common sense thinking or behaviour, you might feel really insecure.  This will be so especially if you do not have any evidence or researched-based facts for what you think, say, or do.

On the other hand, if you can link your common sense with cognitive science, you can provide evidence for what you think or how you are acting.  In this way you can motivate or justify your thinking and actions, as well as act with confidence.  So, confidence is an extremely powerful effect when common sense is linked with cognitive science. 

Who does not want to feel confident?  All parents, teachers, professionals, or employers want to feel confident about what they think, say, or do.  And it is our responsibility to empower our children, the learners in our classes, our patients, or clients, and even employees with science-based facts and information about thinking, learning, memory, the brain, etc.

7. Why do I link my common sense with cognitive science?

In 2021 and 2022 I spent a reasonable amount of time and effort to research cognitive science literature whilst developing my second online course.

I felt confident about creating the content for my course based on my ‘signature’ metacognitive intervention and REAL Learning Process. The reason being that I have dedicated more than half of my working career (of over 42 years) helping school and adult learners to develop better thinking skills, learning skills, executive function skills, and metacognitive skills. But of course, I started reading and researching more… to critically check and monitor myself.

The whole process of researching my existing content led me deeper into cognitive science and the science of learning.

I discovered that many of the smaller steps, actions plans or strategies, that are part of my REAL Learning Process and intervention process, have been researched in depth by a vast number of researchers.

When I started working with older learners, information about cognitive science and the science of learning was not as readily available. I often figured things out myself and created ‘my theories’ to support my referrals. But today most of these things are well researched and has a ‘scientific name’ coined by a researcher.

Through my own research process, to develop my Learning How to Learn Course, I was inspired to always link my common sense (or rather critical thinking) with cognitive science research.  To be confident when I talk to parents, teachers, or professionals, I must be able to back up what I say with scientific truths.

8. The Split Attention Effect is one example of linking common sense with cognitive science

One example of where I linked my common sense with cognitive science is related to the Split Attention Effect.

The Split Attention Effect, first identified by Tarmizi and Sweller (1988) implies that if you have multiple sources of visual information, such as diagrams, labels, and explanatory text, your attention is divided between them.  The same applies to multiple sources of auditory information.  This adds to cognitive load and can slow down and even ‘block’ thinking and learning.

I have encountered hundreds of (common sense) practical examples of The Split Attention Effect over the past two decades in my work with children that link with what researchers have documented. A few practical examples are: 

  • Diagrams with information in the side bars can split attention and lead to working memory challenges
  • History Source Based Questions that have the sources in an Addendum and not with the actual questions 
  • Accounting exercises that must be done on one page in a book, but the transactions are on another page that you cannot view at the same time
  • The way notes are copied – wrong way round and upside down (yes, it happens!) 
  • How children paste things in their books, e.g. questions and answers separated and not next to each other that makes learning easier.
Split Attention Effect

9. What Next?

Maybe you can read a bit more about the Split Attention Effect or other cognitive science research.  You can refer to one or two of my blogs on my website too. 

We can all do so much more to enhance thinking and learning in our children or clients, but we need to think deeper and wider.

Finding scientific proof for what you think is ‘common sense’ is often a starting point.  It is very stimulating, and it creates confidence!

 REAL Thinking & Learning about how you can link your Common Sense with Cognitive Science can help you to be More Confident as a parent, teacher, professional or employer.

Estelle Brettenny