Cognitive Psychophysiology: Event-Related Potentials and the Study of Cognition

By Emanuel Donchin | Go to book overview

9
The Timing of Mental Acts

William Chase
Carnegie-Mellon University, Pittsburgh


9.1 DONDERS AND MENTAL CHRONOMETRY

I want to show you that since Donders' time we have learned a tremendous amount about measuring mental processes from specific tasks. We don't know very much about the so-called control structure, that is, how the system organizes these processes from task to task. I think it is becoming painfully apparent that we need a theory of control structure. In other words, it is not sufficient anymore to do our experimental analysis of isolated mental processes. We need to add a systems analysis.

This emphasis on system analysis raises some issues in the resolution of which electrophysiology, or physiological psychology, can help us. One issue is how control is organized in the brain. I think that this is an empirical question that electrophysiological research can illuminate. Another issue has come up in many different guises, and that is the distinction between controlled and automatic processing, or simple and complex processing, or high-speed versus slow processes, or conscious versus unconscious processes. You can catalog it many different ways, but we seem to think there are some important distinctions here and I think that electrophysiology can potentially tell us something about this. Another issue that was dead at one point is serial versus parallel processing. Of course, now we know better. The brain does both serial and parallel processing at the same time, but we have been batting this issue around for about 10 years.

I think that electrophysiology can tell us more about how processes are organized. Are they serial? Do they cascade? Is an additive stage model a viable approximation to how the brain works? What is an elementary process? I

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