The division of cognitive labor and the structure of interdisciplinary problems

Samuli Reijula*, Jaakko Kuorikoski, Miles MacLeod

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
13 Downloads (Pure)


Interdisciplinarity is strongly promoted in science policy across the world. It is seen as a necessary condition for providing practical solutions to many pressing complex problems for which no single disciplinary approach is adequate alone. In this article we model multi- and interdisciplinary research as an instance of collective problem solving. Our goal is to provide a basic representation of this type of problem solving and chart the epistemic benefits and costs of researchers engaging in different forms of cognitive coordination. Our findings suggest that typical forms of interdisciplinary collaboration are unlikely to find optimal solutions to complex problems within short time frames and can lead to methodological conservatism. This provides some grounds for both reflecting on current science policy and envisioning more effective scientific practices with respect to interdisciplinary problem solving.

Original languageEnglish
Article number214
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jun 2023


  • Collective problem solving
  • Division of cognitive labor
  • Interdisciplinarity
  • Modularity


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