HISTORY OF COGNITIVE PSYCHOLOGY
– compiled by the Cognitive Processes Classes, Fall, 1997 –
18th CENTURY: THE BRITISH EMPIRICISTS
Berkeley’s most influential essay is A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge. It was this that earned Berkeley the title of “subjective idealist,’ imaterialist,” “Spiritualist,” and these are what helped to make his small book one of the more misunderstood essays in philosophy. What Berkeley set out to achieve was the removing of validity from materialism and to do this by refuting the latent or explicitly materialistic content both in Locke’s Essay and in Descartes’ and Hobbes’ “geometric ” theories” of man and society.
David Hume (1711-1776)
Hume published a Treatise of Human Nature. He emphasized Locke’s notion of the compounding of simple ideas into complex ideas, developing and making more explicit the notion of association. He abolished mind as a substance and said that it is a secondary quality like matter. The mind is observable only through perception. More importantly, is the distinction he drew between two kinds of mental contents: impressions and ideas. Impressions are the basic elements of mental life. Impressions are kin to sensation and perception. Ideas are the mental experiences that we have in the absence of any stimulating element. The modern equivalent is image. Hume did not define these two concepts in psychological terms or in reference to any external stimulating object. These mental contents differ not in terms of their source or point of origin, but in terms of their relative strength and vivacity. Impressions are strong and vivid, whereas ideas are but weak copies of impressions. He proposed two theories about association: 1) resemblance or similarity, and 2) contiguity in time and place. His work fits into the categories of empiricism and associationism. He believed that just like the astronomers determine the laws of the universe through which the planets function, it is also possible to determine the laws of mental universes
James Mill (1773-1836)
James Mill believed that the human mind was totally passive. He felt that the mind was a machine functioning in the same way as a clock, acting upon external stimuli. His most important work and contribution to psychology is his book, Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind, written in 1829. Mill states that the mind must be studied through its reduction or analysis into elementary components. Mill believed that ideas and sensations are only certain kinds of mental processes. He felt that ideas result as a process of sensations that have occurred at the same time in a certain order. Thus, James Mill was considered a British empiricist, focusing on the primary role of sensation processes and the relationship between conscious processes and association. John Stuart Mill, who believed in Mental Chemistry, was the son of James Mill.
John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)
John Stuart Mill was a British empiricist who was concerned with Associationism. Associationism studies how ideas can be hooked together and how many laws of association there should be. Mill believed the mind to be active, which is opposition to his father’s belief that the mind was passive. He developed the idea of mental chemistry in which he believed the sum of two ideas compounded together is greater than the sum of the individual ideas. Along with Mill’s research, he wrote several books which also influenced the work of James, Gestalt, and Wundt.
Psychology broke away from philosophy and began to form its own discipline based upon empirical results rather than on speculation. “Only in the last 100 years has it been realized that human cognition could be the subject of scientific study rather than philosophical speculation” (Anderson, 1995).
Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920)
Wilhelm Wundt was born on Aug. 16, 1832 in Neckarau Baden, Germany. Wundt established the first psychology laboratory in Leipzig, Germany in 1879 and published the first journal, Philosophische Studien, that contained a report of experimental results. Wundt taught at the University at Leipzig from 1875 to 1917. Wundt founded the psychological institute at the University of Leipzig. Wundt is regarded as the founder of psychology as a formal academic discipline and the first person in history to be designated as a psychologist. Wundt believed that psychology is based on the observation of experience. Wundt taught many psychologists, such as Tichener. His method of inquiry was largely introspection (having highly trained observers report on the contents of their consciousness under carefully controlled conditions according to Anderson, 1995).
Hermann Helmholtz (1821-1894)
Hermann Helmholtz was born it 1821 in Potsdam, Germany. Helmholtz was know for his research in physics and physiology and he is regarded as one of the greatest scientists of the nineteenth century. Helmholtz is known for his theory of unconscious inference, for example visual perception of space. Helmholtz was an advocate of the natural sciences. He had a particular interest in the speed of neural impulses. His research was one of the first to demonstrate that it is possible to experiment on and measure a psychophysiological process. Helmholtz developed the Young-Helmholtz theory of color vision.
Hermann Ebbinghaus (1850-1909)
Hermann Ebbinghaus was educated at the University of Bonn. As a young doctor of philosophy, he was determined to study higher mental processes and examine these processes that were neglected by Wundt. The experiment began in 1879 with Ebbinghaus as his only subject. The result was Memory in 1885. Memory utilized the first use of nonsense syllables to discover the fundamental laws of learning. The nonsense syllables were meaningless, therefore uninfluenced by previous learning. He also used nonsense syllables because any one nonsense syllable is not easier to learn than another. Ebbinghaus also studied forgetfulness. He would memorize lists of nonsense syllables, 13 in each list, and measure how long it took him to forget the syllables. His results have been summarized in the forgetting curve.
Sir Frances Galton (1822-1911)
Galton is considered the founder of eugenics which is controlled breeding to improve the condition of mankind. Galton did not believe the environment determined human character. He believed there existed innate social worth. He was interested in a small portion of the population, the exceptional. Galton published Hereditary Genius which “proposed to show that a man’s natural abilities are derived by inheritance”. Galton’s statistical methods made possible the comparisons of individuals. He devised a number of important methods used today. He was the first to systematically apply statistics to psychological data, and he invented the correlation coefficient. He also did substantial research about the debate of Nature vs. Nurture, and invented the free-association technique.
Edward Titchener (1867-1927)
Born in 1867, Edward Titchener was a follower of the psychological teachings of Wilhelm Wundt. He attended school at Malvern College and Oxford on scholarships because his family was very poor. He spent most of his career teaching at Cornell University in New York state. Titchener’s view was based on his belief that all consciousness was capable of being reduced to three states: sensations, which are the basic elements of perception; images, which are the pictures formed in our minds to characterize what is perceived; and affections, which are the constituents of emotions. By 1915 Titchener had formulated his context theory of meaning. According to his theory, core referred to raw experiences such as sensations of light, sound, touch, and smell; context consisted of associations brought on by raw experiences. Context is what gives meaning to the core. Titchener also believed that emotions are intensified feelings arising from sensations inside the body. Titchener died in 1927.
William James (1842-1910)
William James wrote the first psychology textbook, Principles of Psychology, which was the central work of his career. The concept of functionalism is expressed in James’ psychology which he treats as a natural science. Functionalism is the adaption of living persons to their environment. James also contributed to the James-Lange theory. This theory states that we feel an emotion because of the action in which we choose to engage. For example, we infer are afraid because we run.
EARLY 20TH CENTURY
Edward Tolman was known for “his work that centered around demonstrating that animals had both expectations and internal representations that guided their behavior.” (Galotti, 1994) He believed that rats used a cognitive map in order to complete the maze instead of memorization. He showed this by putting rats in different places on the maze than ones where they had been trained. The rats reached the goal point without going to the learned place. This supported the notion that they had created a cognitive map.
Wolfgang Kohler was known for his early criticism of the characterization of problem solving. His famous study involved an ape in a cage, Sultan, that was given two hollow bamboo sticks. A banana was placed outside the cage out of range for the sticks to reach it. For a certain amount of time the ape tried to reach the banana with the sticks, failing each time. At a certain point Sultan was observed to sit quietly for a time, after which he put the two sticks together. Kohler called the sudden solution that followed the quiet time “insight” and concluded that it was a typical property of problem solving.
Sir Frederick Bartlett
Sir Frederick Bartlett was known for his study of memory. He placed his emphasis on studies under natural conditions. Therefore, he rejected laboratory research. He felt that past experiences helped reconstruct the material able to be retrieved. He used a method called serial reproduction. This method allowed subjects to recall stories on more than one occasion with varying retention intervals. He focused on information that was remembered and ” misremembered”. His results showed that overtime the subjects’ recall was progressively more distorted. Therefore “He rejected that the idea of long term memory where material is stored unchanged until retrieval”. He saw memory as an active and often inaccurate process. The famous story he used was “The War of the Ghosts.”
Skinner, B. F. (1904-1995)
Born in Subsequenna PA, Skinner is famous for his theory of operant conditioning. He believed that behaviors and language were learned through reinforcement (Solso, 317-318). He invented the Skinner box, which was used to control and measure learned animal behavior. He believed that behavioral changes resulted from responses of the individual to environmental stimuli. He believed that the cognitive revolution was a backward, rather than a forward, step in the history of psychology (Murray, 415). Among his main scientific works were The Behavior of Organisms (1938) and Verbal Behavior (1957). Behaviorism caused the study of mental events to be put aside. In many ways it was a reaction against introspection. There was a behavioral revolution in America. Behaviorists believed that psychology should be only concerned with external behavior and “should not try to analyze the workings of the mind that underlay this behavior” (Anderson, 1995). Watson (1930) said that “Behaviorism claims that consciouness is neither a definite nor a usable concept.” ” The behaviorist program and the issues it spawned all but eliminated any serious research in cognitive psychology for 40 years….Perhaps the most important lasting contribution of behaviorism is a set of sophisticated and rigorous techniques and principles for experimental study in all fields of psychology, including cognitive psychology.” (Anderson, 1995)
REEMERGENCE OF COGNITIVE PSYCHOLOGY
According to Anderson (1995), cognitive psychology first emerged in the two decades between 1950 and 1970. The modern development of cognitive psychology was due to the WWII focuss on research on human performance and attention, developments in computer science, especially those in artificial intelligence, and the renewal of interest in the field of linguistics.
Noam Chomsky (1928-)
Noam Chomsky’s review of Skinner’s book on language (Verbal Behavior) in the 1959 journal Language is considered the famous turning point for Cognitive psychology. Chomsky, a linguist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, argued that language cannot be explained through a stimulus response process as Skinner explained, because this does not account for some of the common facts about language. The creative use of language can be better explained as a central process than a peripheral process. Language is a way to express ideas, and the way that these ideas are turned into language is a cognitive process. Chomsky’s critique stimulated much more interest in the cognitive processes of all types of human activity (Benjafield, p.41). He showed that language was much more complex than anyone previously believed and that behavioral explanations could not reasonably explain the complexities of language. Chomsky’s language model included two types of structures: surface structures and deep structures.
David Rumelhart & James McClelland
Rumelhart and McClelland are prime examples of modern cognitive psychologists. Their names are associated with Parallel Distributed Processing (PDP). This model stresses that information processing happens simultaneously (parallel) as opposed to serially (one at a time). Their theory suggests that many simple processing units are responsible for sending excitatory and inhibitory signals to other units. By understanding these basic features, they believe that the complex system can be explained. The idea that processing involves interconnected elements and the reference to neural models, makes up their Connectionist Theory.
George Miller is a professor at Princeton University. He studies information processing and focuses his studies on the capacity of Short-term Memory (STM). His name is associated with the “Magic Number 7.” This theory suggests that most people can remember 7 plus/minus 2 bits of information using their STM. Miller also found that recall of information is better when it is chunked together.
Newell is a mathematician who applied cognitive psychology to the design of computer systems. He spent forty years at CMU educating cognitive psychologists on the implications of artificial intelligence. Newell saw cognitive activities as problem solving activities. Some of his other work focused on expert vs. novice differences in memory. Newell and Simon worked on artificial intelligence at Carnegie Mellon University.
Cognitive psychology has grown rapidly since the 1950’s. A very important event was the publication of Ulric Neisser’s book, Cognitive Psychology, in 1967. It gave a new legitimacy to the field and consisted of six chapters on perception and attention and four chapters on language, memory, and thought. Following Neisser’s work, another important event was the beginning of the Journal Cognitive Psychology in 1970. This journal has done much to give definition to the field. More recently a new field, called cognitive science, has emerged which attempts to integrate research efforts from psychology, philosophy, linguistics, neuroscience, and artificial intelligence. This field can be dated from the appearance of the journal, Cognitive Science in 1976 (Anderson, 1995).