Need for Cognition (NFC) essentially means how much you’re willing to accept something at face value, versus how important it is for you to have a deep understanding of why something is true.

People with low NFC just want the facts. Tightly summarized, so they can make a quick decision. Or pass a test. Win a prize.

On the other end of the spectrum are people who need to know how something was arrived at. Or better yet, determine that for themselves.

Here’s an example…

Your teacher tells you that the area of a triangle is ½ (h*b), one-half the height multiplied by the base. As long as you can measure the height and the base, you can find the area of any triangle.

If you have a low need for cognition, you’re satisfied with just memorizing the formula. Or writing it on the palm of your hand for “easy reference.” Life is good.

But if you’re on the other end of the spectrum, you’ll immediately ask “Why?” As a self-directed learner, you might draw a rectangle, which you’ve previously determined has an area of l*w (length times width).

You quickly realize that you can form two triangles of equal size by drawing a line diagonally from one corner to the other. If the total area is l*w, then the area of each triangle is half that. Voila! A = ½ (h*b).

Using the same basic approach and playing around with different types of triangles (isosceles, obtuse, etc.), you get the same result. Start with the triangle and work your way to a rectangle, or start with a rectangle to get to the triangle.

That’s the fun of mathematics. There are many different ways to discover the answer.

Now here’s where it gets interesting.

Let’s say you naturally have a low NFC, but would like to kick it up a notch. Then deep learning is for you.

Or maybe you’re like many, who in early childhood had a raging-high NFC. You kept asking, “Why?” “Why?” “Why?” You kept trying to figure things out for yourself.

But as you’re painfully aware, when you adopt that approach, sometimes you get it wrong. In fact, you can get it wrong many times. And that’s when you start getting dinged. Or yelled at. You’re told to get with the program or else.

Little by little, your NFC slides toward the low end of the spectrum.

Going back to the original question, you might want to step back and think about what life would be like if you were in a totally safe environment. If you were free to be wrong. Free to keep trying until you got it right, with no time constraints.

What would your NFC be in that situation? If it would still be at the low end of the scale and you’re happy with that, fine. Keep doing what you’re doing.

But if you find yourself wanting, then keep playing around with the various deep learning techniques we’ve been discussing. You’ll not only start gaining a broader and deeper understanding of what you’re learning, you’ll begin to enjoy the personal satisfaction that comes from navigating the exciting world of self-discovery.