In the Heinlein novel, Stranger in a Strange Land, the main character, Valentine Michael Smith, a human raised on Mars, is capable of reading two books at the same time. Having tried this once when cramming for exams, I can tell you it might work for a human raised on Mars, but it didn't work for this human. For as a teacher once said to me, the mind can only absorb what the bottom can endure. The moral here is that there are limits to how much information people can take in at once.
The ability of people to process information is limited by attentional resources. That is, through selective attention, humans select a limited amount of sensory input to process while other sensory input is neglected (Wahn & Konig, 2017). When the brain gets too much information, it can cause one to miss things otherwise noticed or be unable to commit information to long term memory. There is a good deal of research to support the idea that mental illnesses such as schizophrenia stems from an inability to effectively screen sensory input. Schizophrenic patients show a peculiar deficit in screening and processing of incoming sensory data. They are overloaded with data (Ghadirian, 1976).
The information processing model of communication states that communication is a process in which information is encoded, transmitted, received and then decoded. A breakdown in any of part of the sequence means that what is communicated may be misunderstood, if understood at all. In an economy which is predicated on the ability to effectively work with information, an appreciation for how much data a person can process at once is critical. Information overload can make people be less creative, more anxious and less productive (Ryder, 2011). Further, one needs to be aware of how to best present information in a way that it will be perceived and correctly decoded by the receiver.
In this regard, we need to consider not only the content of what is being communicated, but how it is communicated. The medium employed in conjunction with the content can help facilitate how the information is perceived and needs to be an integral part of the overall communication strategy (Larson, 2014).
Fortunately, there has been a good deal of research to help guide communication and instructional design choices. Of particular relevance here is the field of Gestalt Psychology. Research reveals that the principles of grouping, proximity, similarity, spatial arrangement, and symmetry, among others, play important roles in perception (Wagemans, Elder, Kubovy, Palmer, Peterson, Singh, & Von der Heydt, 2012). Even the use of color has been shown to affect emotional responses in the viewer (Liqiong & Poole, 2010).
Applying the aforementioned principles to communication and instructional design has resulted in the acronym, C.A.R.P. which reminds designers to consider such as elements as:
The human mind actively seeks out certain patterns and ignores others. Humans prefer those environments that are most favorable for understanding, with respect to legibility and sense (Liqiong & Poole, 2010). The purpose of good design is not about decoration, but rather about making communication as clear as possible. What we are striving for is attention and valence, with respect to the receiver (Liqiong & Poole, 2010). By this is meant, attracting the audiences attention and then keeping it. To do this requires engaging the person’s senses, intellect and emotion. Thus, good design is an art as well as a science.
Wahn, B., & Konig, P. (2017). Is attentional resource allocation across sensory
modalities task-dependent?. Advances In Cognitive Psychology, (1), 83.
Ghadirian, A. (1976). Sensory perceptual limitation in schizophrenia. Psychotherapy and
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Ryder, B. (2011, June 30). Too much information. The Economist. Retrieved from:
Larson, M. B. (2014). Streamlined ID : A practical guide to instructional design. New York:
Wagemans, J., Elder, J. H., Kubovy, M., Palmer, S. E., Peterson, M. A., Singh, M., & von der
Heydt, R. (2012). A Century of Gestalt Psychology in Visual Perception. Perceptual
Grouping and Figure-Ground Organization. Psychological Bulletin, 138(6), 1172–1217.
Liqiong, D., & Poole, M. (2010). Affect in web interfaces: a study of the impacts of web
page visual complexity and order. MIS Quarterly, 34(4), 711-A10.
Versluis, Martin. (2014, October 13). Using CARP graphic design principles for better
instructional design. The International Institute for Innovative Instruction. Retrieved