psy450- 7 9 17- richards.doc

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22 Apr 2012

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Chapter 7: Cognitive Psychology
Emergence of Cognitive Psychology
Cognitive Psychology is the most prominent school of experimental Psychology
Unlike Behaviourism – arose simultaneously in US & Britain
BUT: role of British figures (Kenneth Craik, Frank George, W. Grey
Walter, late Donald Broadbent & Alan Turing’s work)
Before this time, psychologists didn’t ignore cognition:
Gestaltists paid a lot of attention; Spearman in his intelligence work –
1923; Piaget in Cognitive Development – 1920s; Even Alfred Binet –
1890s (as early as 1850s)
Traditional philosophy – treated LOGIC + COGNITION synonymous
QUESTION: why did Cognitive Psychology appear so revolutionary in 1950s?
(this is a view sustained by most historians)
1. Cognitivism – seen as breaking behaviourism’s hold on experimental
psychology replacing it as most productive theoretical orientation
i.e. “rebellion against entrenched behaviourism” story
2. Adoption of new set of theoretical concepts – new technical language
Cognitive Psychologists: thinking about thinking in NOVEL ways*
Late 1930s – technology approaching current level of complexity
Radio, tv, aero-engineering
WWII – intensified inventions – radar need to coordinate radar with
air-defenses, code-breaking machines (Turing’s work), Manhattan project
* Feature of Innovations – ever-escalating level of mathematical calculations &
development of ever-more versatile calculating machines
Brought to forefront: Design problems – control and integration of
complex technical systems, plus interaction between human and machine
Technology + Mathematics + Theoretical concern with design principles
all interwoven and underlie Cognitive Psychology!
Not initiated by psychologists, but electrical engineers (Claude Shannon,
Norbert Weiner, J. von Neumann, Turing, Craik, Cambridge)
Electronic Computer – invention that finally integrated everything
together (1940s – w/ 1948 transistor making computer possible)
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3 central ideas came from Computer – that alter conceptualization of cognition
a. Prior 1940 – notion of measuring info was absurd
b. Shannon 1948 – endowed ‘information’ with precise technical meaning
enabling it to be quantified information can be measured in terms of
the uncertainty it eliminates “Binary Logic”
i. i.e. how many yes-no/1-0 decisions required to specify the info
equivalent to On/Off states of electrical switches
ii. ‘Bits’ (‘binary digit’) of information
c. Information Theory – ‘channel/storage capacity’ & ‘noisy signal’
important innovation was ‘redundancy’ = ‘surplus’ information
i. If ‘signal’ only contains precise minimum of info necessary, any
interference will be meaningless; additional ‘redundant’ info
ensures successful transmission (despite degree of
ii. Ex: short form in writing English (equivalent to texting someone
a short form – because written English has many letters which is
d. Measuring information – first entered Psychology in psychophysics &
reaction time (RT) studies
i. Ex: Study RT as function of the info in stimulus array – how much
longer it takes to react to 1 of 8 possibilities than to 1 of 4
ii. Other questions: what’s the info capacity of STM? How fast is
info of different kinds processed?
iii. Now, questions that couldn’t be asked, became of direct
practical importance
e. Eventual outcome of studying cognition was to study human
information processing
a. Tolman – striven to incorporate ‘purpose’ into Behaviourist theory
i. Difficult- before 1940s, ‘purposiveness’ was incompatible with
scientific determinism (suggested that something later in time
could cause something earlier in time – counters
unidirectionality of time & notion of cause-effect sequence)
ii. And hence 1940s technology provided what looked like non-
mysterious solution – notion of negative feedback
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b. Term ‘feedback’ first recorded in 1920 – feedback through
microphones (microphones picks up output from its amplifier)
i. dCredit – Norbert Weiner & Craik, via Cybernetics to promote its
ii. Weiner spotted the theoretical significance of some familiar
gadgets for controlling operation of machines (like steam
engines – maintained engines at constant speed) the
system’s output is ‘fed back’ to return it to a desired state
iii. Resembles PURPOSIVENESS – feedback loop
iv. Positive feedback loop: feedback loop increased the divergence
in output yet further (ex: in human evolution of increased brain
size correlated with nutrition + intelligence)
v. Negative feedback loop: counteracts divergence, maintaining
system in desired state (ex: homeostatic biological mechanisms;
temperature constant, adjust vision to light)
c. 1950s – W. Grey Walter designed small cybernetic robots
(‘cybernauts’) to demonstrate how ‘purposive’ behaviour could be
artificially achieved
d. Psychological relevance: purposive behaviour was no longer
mysterious, because it could be studies using the notion of feedback
i. Information is being fed back
ii. Psycho-physiological system: processed info about external
environment + current state & output via feedback loops
e. Humans as information processor = feedback central feature
a. Middle Ages: first ‘hardware programs’ was constructed by inventors &
engineers, involving building into the machine, some kind of unfolding
sequence of instructions (ex: pins on music-box cylinder)
b. Advent of computer ‘programming’ acquired major significance
c. 1945 – report on first ‘electronic’ computer
i. Psychologists: concept proved useful – analogous to concept of
‘plan’ (handle complex higher-order behaviour in terms of
programs or plans which the organism ‘ran through’ AND could
be nested within one another, on any timescale)
d. Programming occurs at 2 levels
i. ‘Hardware’ level of the system’s design – governs the system’s
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