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Work and Cognitive Performance

What facilitates cognitive performance and what inhibits it

The modern working world makes enormous demands on the cognitive performance of employees. However, brain capacity is limited. The Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (BAuA) examines which work-related factors influence performance.

New information and communication technologies, flexible work requirements and life-long learning require great cognitive performance by employees. However, the capacity to process information is limited. Mistakes, reduced attention and memory impairments are possible consequences. Well-organised work can help to protect against these.

Cognitive performance

The following characteristics are essential for cognitive performance: perception, attention, memory performance, learning and problem-solving abilities, adaptability, executive functions, cognitive flexibility, etc. These characteristics must be significantly more distinct with information-intensive work in order to satisfy the requirements.


Multitasking is a central characteristic of the modern working world. A person who can carry out several tasks at the same time is still said to have a high performance potential. However, research findings show that the capacity of the human brain to process information is limited. It cannot carry out two cognitively demanding tasks simultaneously. If someone tries nonetheless, mistakes are not being perceived and processed correctly anymore.

Influence factors

Research has shown that cognitive skills depend on many factors. Intellectually demanding work activities and good learning opportunities promote cognitive performance. In contrast, monotonous activities, long working hours or night work and shifts inhibit it. A variety of lifestyle-related factors are also important, such as sporting activity and diet. Further research on "cognitive reserves" is intended to provide insight into how age-related impairments of performance can be compensated.

Workplace intervention

Together with cooperation partners, BAuA has contributed to the development and evaluation of cognitive training in the context of workplace support measures. In the evaluation, BAuA not only examined the efficacy of the training in a controlled study, it also investigated training demand and the success of realisation in a workplace setting.


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