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Chapter 15

PSYC85H3 Chapter Notes - Chapter 15: Ulric Neisser, Noam Chomsky, Cognitive Psychology

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Gerald Cupchik

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Chapter 15: Cognitive Psychology
•The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘cognition’ as the ‘action or faculty of knowing’. Thus,
cognitive psychology investigates those processes by which we understand ourselves & the
•These processes include attention, memory, concepts, imagery, problem solving, reasoning,
judgment, and language.
The concept of ‘Information’
•One of the developments of the 20th century ! computer science & allied disciplines
•A computing machine can be seen as an INFORMATION PROCESSING SYSTEM.
•Information is the opposite of uncertainty
-Ex) before tossing the coin we are uncertain about which alternative (heads or tails) will occur.
-After tossing the coin, we are uncertain is eliminated. Any event that reduces or eliminates
uncertainty provides us with information.
•Some situations contain more uncertainty than others.
-Rolling a die contains more uncertainty than tossing a coin (6 sides versus 2)
•It is possible to quantify the amount of information provided by the occurrence of an event in
terms of BITS. ! “bit” is short for ‘binary digit’
-Ex) flipping an unbiased coin in which we are uncertain about which of two equally likely events
will occur. When one of the two events occurs, then we get one bit of information.
-Every time the number of equally likely alternatives doubles then the number of bits goes up by
-The guessing game ! the number of bits corresponds to the number of questions you woul would
need to ask in order to guess the right answer.
•Information theory did supply the vocabulary for a new model of the process of communication.
-This model described the process by which information was transmitted through a channel of
1.First stage is ENCODING, or the transformation of the input into a form that can be transmitted.
-Thus a telephone encodes the human voice into a set of signals that can be transmitted along
telephone wires or some other medium.
2.At the other end, the message is DECODED into a form that can be used as OUTPUT by the
consumer of the information.
Noam Chomsky
•Language is learned behavior
•Argued that behaviorist principles could NOT explain any significant aspects of language.
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•Ex) people are continuously generating sentences that they have never spoken before & Skinner’s
approach does NOT & cannot explain this fact.
•A natural language is a native language, such as English, French, or Chinese.
Syntactic Structures
•Chomsky dismissed behaviorism as lacking scientific content, but proposed to replace it with a
genuinely scientific theory that could explain the basic facts of language.
•Chomsky pointed out that native speakers of English have no trouble telling which of the following
sentences is grammatical, even though both are meaningless.
-Colourless green ideas sleep furiously
-Furiously sleep ideas green colourless
•Point was that everyone has the ‘ability to produce & recognize grammatical utterances’ and that
‘grammer is autonomous and independent of meaning’.
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•People have an understanding of grammer that allows them to discern whether or not an utterance
is grammatical, even when they may never have heard anything like before.
•Also, ambiguity is common in natural languages; multiple meaning; “Like” in “Time flies LIKE an
arrow” is a noun and “flies” is a verb whereas in “Fruit flies LIKE a banana” ! the ‘flies’ is a noun.
•Chomsky propose that language can be understood in terms of levels.
-The particular words that make up a sentence constitute one level called the SURFACE
o Surface structures are spoken one word at a time, each successive word does not act as a stimulus
for the next word in the sentence.
-The surface structure is derived from an underlying DEEP STRUCTURE by means of grammatical
o Grammatical transformations are rules that replace one symbol with another.
o The following examples of such transformations
1.Sentence (S) ! Noun Phrase (NP) + Verb Phrase (VP)
2.NP! article (T) + Noun (N)
•The important thing to see about Chomsky’s approach is that speech is produced by a hierarchical,
top-down process that moves from deep to surface structure.
•Sentences that have similar surface structures (e.g., ‘Time flies like an arrow’ and ‘Fruit Flies like a
banana’) can have different deep structures and thus be understood in different ways.
•In Chomsky’s model, language is controlled but NOT by external stimuli but by an internally
generated system of rules.
Cartesian Linguistics-
•Descartes was a nativist; believing that our most human capacities are innate; This is also the
position Chomsky took with respect to language.
•All languages share common principles and these principles are ‘known unconsciously’ by everyone.
•The child possesses a LANGUAGE ACQUISITION DEVICE that comes equipped with a rich
set of hypotheses about the grammatical structures of any possible natural language.
•Critics said that Chomsky overestimated the role of innate factors in determining the process of
language acquisition.
George A. Muiller
•1950s; working at Hardvard; came in contact with many of the central figures in what was to
become cognitive psychology.
The Magical Number Seven
•A famous example of Miller’s work was his paper “The magical number seven: plus or minus two’
in which he described experiments where an experimental participant was regarded as a
‘communication channel’ and the experimenter was interested in how much information can be
accurately transmitted through this channel ! amount is called CHANNEL CAPACITY.
-In some experiments, participants had to estimate the magnitude of a stimulus dimension.
-Participants could discriminate between seven different magnitudes, giving a channel capacity of
about 2.5 bits of information.
-The result was similar in investigations of the SPAN OF APPREHENSION.
•Miller’s review of the literature suggests that we can hold about 7 items in mind at one time. He
called this the SPAN OF IMMEDIATE MEMORY & observed that the amount of information we
can retain in this way is quite limited.
•Miller drew attention to the ‘seven wonders of the world’, the seven seas, the seven levels of
heaven, the seven primary colors, the seven notes of the musical scale & the seven days of the week’.
Plans & the structure of behavior
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•By Miller, Galanter and Pribram;
•Drew on CYBERNETICS for their core theoretical ideas.
•CYBERNETICS defined as the ‘science of control ship’; concerned with formulating general
principles that control any system, whether organic or inorganic.
•FEEDBACK (one of the central concepts of cybernetics) ! a process in which the output of one
part of a system affects another part of the system which in turn affects the first part.
•The classic example of a FEEDBACK LOOP is a thermostat ! device is set to maintain a pre-set
temperature; turning the thermostat on & off to regulate;
•Miller & colleagues proposed that the feedback loop be regarded as the basic unit of behavioral
-Called these units TOTE Mechanisms.
-Short for test-operate-test-exit.
-Works in the same way as a thermostat.
-Ex) An example might have subordinate test whether or not you have satisfied your B.A
requirements. The subordinate tests are whether or not you have satisfied your major & minor
requirements. If not, you take courses to pass these tests. When all tests are passed, you leave
•Our more general totes are called strategies and our more concrete activities are called tactics.
Subjective Behaviorism
•Asking people to tell us about their plans.
•Proposed the limited use of THINKING ALOUD, a technique that had already been used by
many psychologists interested in studying thinking.
•Thinking aloud simply involves speaking while you are thinking & reporting directly on what you
are thinking as it happens; different from introspection.
Giving Psychology Away
•Miller argued that while psychological science was something of which all citizens can and should
become aware, professional organizations such as the American Psychological Association should
not become involved in the promotion of social changed.
•In 1991, George Miller awarded the National Medal of Science.
Jerome S. Bruner
•Did seminal research on everything from perception and thinking to child development.
The New Look in Perception
•In the 1940s & 1950s Bruner and his colleagues began a research program in perception that
became known as the ‘NEW LOOK’.
•His group investigated the effects of need, of interest, of past experience, on the manner of
organization of the perceptual field’
•The ‘New Look’ approached perception as a joint function of both the stimulus and the state of the
•One of the central axioms of the ‘NEW LOOK’ was called the MINIMAX AXION: people
organize the perceptual field in such a way to minimize percepts relevant to
current needs and expectations and to minimize percepts inimical to such needs & expectations.
•In a study: one result was that participants required longer exposure time to recognize trick as
opposed to normal cards.
-Supportive of the hypothesis that stimuli that conform to people’s expectations are seen more easily
than those that do not.
-Perceptual organization is powerfully determined by expectations built upon past commerce with
the environment.
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