Cognitive Development: The Information-Processing Approach
I.The nature of the information-processing approach
-Thinking is information processing. The information to be processed can take
many forms across different contexts and developmental levels. The processing
can also take many forms, depending on the demands of the task: attention to
critical features, insertion into a conceptual category, and comparison with past
memory input. The IP has become a common approach to understand
intelligence, emotional processing, behaviour in children and adolescent
antisocial behaviour. Two metaphors help us understand the IP approach: The
flowchart metaphor and computer metaphor.
-The Flowchart Metaphor
This theory deals with memory
Starting point: some environmental input; End point: response output
Between stimulus and response, a number of psychological processes intervene
to interpret and code the environmental input and transform it into mental
information that can be used to initiate response outputs.
In the case of Memory, the initial input is assumed to be acted on and
transformed in various ways. For example, 6 year old hears a word for the first
time. Word enters auditory register------> literal representation of the stimlus is
held for a second at most--------->word moves to short-term (working memory),
which is the centre for active and conscious processing------>word may be
transferred to long term memory where it can exist indefinitely.
More general psychological processes also play a role:
Control processes affect the maintenance of information and the movement
from one store to another.
Response generating mechanism- necessary to explain the eventual overt
response (i.e. the child's ability to say a recently learned word)
Information is acted on, or processed, in various ways as it moves through the
The external stimulus and the external response are only the end points. The IP
theorists' goal is to specify what comes between stimulus and response. The goal of neuropsychologist and neuroscientists is to specify the brain and neural
substrates through which the information processing occurs
-The Computer Metaphor
Humans and computers are alike in a number of ways: Both store
representations or symbols and manipulate these symbols to solve problems.
Both perform a variety of such manipulations very rapidly in a powerful fashion.
Both are limited in the amount of information they can store and manipulate.
Both can learn from experience and modify their rule systems in a progressively
The computer simulation: programming a computer to perform a cognitive task
in the same way in which humans are thought to perform it. An information
processing method for testing theories of underlying processes. They provide a
powerful method for testing theories of underlying process and its development.
Limitation: simulations are static. They tell us what cognitive system is like at one
point in development. They don't model the developmental change in
Each computer simulation of development includes a set of rules intended to
model the starting point level of understanding of a child. They also include
mechanisms for changing the initial rules in response to experience.
The forms of knowledge for which change has been successfully modelled
include conservation, transitivity, physical reasoning and arithmetic
Connectionism: creation of artificial neural networks, embodied in computer
programs, that solve cognitive tasks and modify their solutions in response to
experience. A methodological and theoretical approach.
The units of interconnected neurons are arranged in layers: input layers, output
layer. Some have a hidden layer representing the info used to execute the task.
Connections vary in strength or weights. When the amount of activation
received from its connecting units is sufficient, a unit fires.
Sum of activated units= response to the task
Neural networks are programmed to change or learn with experience. The
network uses feedback on the accuracy of each output to modify onnection
strengths -Microgenetic Studies
Microgenetic study begins with the selection of a sample of children who are
thought to be in a transitional phase for the knowledge being studied; they are
close to moving to a higher level of understanding
Goal: observe the changes as the change occurs
The children are usually observed as they try to solve a variety of problems that
assess the abilities of interest
It`s like a movie, whereas longitudinal study is like a snapshot at different stages
Example of a microgenetic study by Siegler and Jenkins
Five issues related to cognitive change for which microgenetic techniques can
provide valuable data: 1) path of cognitive change, 2) sequence and levels
through which children move in acquiring the knowledge, 3) breadth of
change: when a new competency is acquired and how narrowly or broadly it is
applied, 4) variability in the pattern change: there may be substantial variability
en route to the same end point 5) sources of change: the experiences and
processes through which new knowledge is constructed
-Comparison with Piaget
Information processing theorist's stages are more domain specific, more
concerned with distinct aspects of development
Similarities: Content studied, General theoretical level, Division of development
in different stages, though not identical stages (some IP theorists)
Differences: PIage`s stages are broad, but IP stages are more domain-specific
(more concerned with distinct aspects of development,
IP theorists attempt to develop models that are more specific and more
complete than those offered by Piaget
IP emphasis on precision and testability II. Memory in infancy
All IP models rely on a theory of memory. Questions of memory involves how
information is taken in , stored, and retrieved, and it is central to the IP modelling
In infancy, children begin to construct memories through social interactions and
Event memory- children develop scripts for sequences of familiar actions or
routine events in their daily world
Script- A representation of the typical sequence of events in a familiar context.
Scripts are the products of constructive memory and can lead to both improved
memory and memory distortions
Children often resist the attempt to change their script
Constructive memory- refers to the ways that individuals interpret the
information they take in, in terms of their pre-existing knowledge, which affets
what they remember
Autobiographical memory- specific, personal, and long-lasting memory about
the self. (i.e. first day of sch