Adaptive Perspectives on Human-Technology Interaction: Methods and Models for Cognitive Engineering and Human-Computer Interaction

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Introduction

Alex Kirlik

We are impressed by the close correspondence between the rational analysis framework
developed by Anderson and the “Lens” model for the analysis of judgment.

—Hastie & Hammond (1991, p. 498)

Hastie & Hammond comment on the similarities and differences between this program and
that of Brunswik. I think the similarities are quite strong and am inclined to agree with Hastie
& Hammond's assessment that rational analysis is quite in keeping with the spirit of
Brunswik's work.

—John R. Anderson (1991b, p. 513)

In 1990, John Anderson, a highly accomplished cognitive scientist and creator of the ACT-R cognitive architecture, published a book signaling his appreciation for what an ecological perspective could contribute to the study of cognition (Anderson, 1990). Characterizing the mechanistic cognitive theories of the time as a “random set of postulates let loose on the world” (1990, p. 30), and as “bizarre and implausible” (Anderson, 1990, p. iii), he responded by presenting a research approach designed to take some of the arbitrariness out of cognitive modeling. He called this approach rational analysis: “an explanation of an aspect of human behavior based on the assumption that it is optimized somehow to the structure of the environment” (Anderson, 1991a, p. 471). In his Behavioral and Brain Sciences précis of his 1990 book (Anderson, 1991a), Anderson began by clearly indicating the ecological tradition in which he considered rational analysis to lie, citing books by both Brunswik (1956) and Gibson (1966, 1979) as related attempts to understand cognition as an adaptation to the environment. The epigraphs drawn from the dialogue spawned by that précis suggest that both Anderson and psychologists working from a Brunswikian orientation (Hastie and Hammond, 1991) recognized the relationship between rational analysis and Brunswik's probabilistic functionalism and apparently thought well of this confluence of ideas.

One motivation for the development of rational analysis was a concern that the mechanistic cognitive theories of the time were too empirically underconstrained, but Anderson also shared a second motivation: “I have always felt that something was lost when the cognitive revolution abandoned behaviorism; my work on rational analysis can be viewed as an attempt to recover that” (1991b, p. 513). Among post–cognitive revolution psychologists, Anderson is clearly not alone in this regard: Consider the distinctly ecological shifts represented by the differences between Neisser's Cognitive Psychology (1967) and Cognition and Reality (1976), and Donald Norman's transition from information processing theorist to author of the The Design of Everyday Things (1989). These individual responses to the perceived excesses of environmentally abstracted cognitivism have of course been reflected in more sweeping, ecologically enriched, conceptual frameworks and perspectives such as embodied cognition (e.g., Barsalou, 1999; Clark, 1997; Dourish, 2001), distributed cognition (e.g., Hutchins, 1995; Kirsh, 1996), and ecological rationality (Gigerenzer & Goldstein, 1996; Gigerenzer & Selten, 2001; Gigerenzer, Todd, & the ABC Research Group, 1999).

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