Rules of the Mind

Rules of the Mind

Rules of the Mind

Rules of the Mind


Related to the earlier well-known ACT production system theory, this book's basic goal is to present evidence for the psychological reality of a production system model of mind. Distinguished from the original theory in three ways, this volume uses the rational analyses of Anderson (1990) to improve upon that theory and extend its scope. It also relates the theory to a great deal of new data on the performance and acquisition of cognitive skills.

The new theory -- ACT-R -- involves a neurally plausible implementation of a production system architecture. Rational analysis is used to structure and parameterize the system to yield optimal information processing. The theory is applicable to a wide variety of research disciplines, including memory, problem solving, and skill acquisition. Using intelligent tutors, much of the data is concerned with the acquisition of cognitive skills. The book provides analyses of data sets describing the extended course of the acquisition of mathematical and computer programming skills.


In 1983, I completed a description of a fairly general theory of human cognition called ACT (Anderson, 1983a). Its most compelling feature was that it was capable of applying to a wide range of cognitive phenomena. I have spent much of the 10 years since then testing the empirical consequences of that theory. Although my colleagues and I could have focused on many different empirical phenomena, there is no question that the majority of the effort in our laboratory has gone into understanding the nature of cognitive skills. Much, but not all, of this research has been devoted to the development of intelligent computer- based tutors that teach mathematical and computer-programming skills.

The reason for the focus on cognitive skill was probably that the theory was cast as a production system, and production systems provide particularly appropriate models for understanding cognitive skills. My motivation in writing this book was to give a general overview of the data from our laboratory (particularly from our tutors), which I felt argued quite persuasively for an understanding of cognitive skill in terms of a certain kind of production-rule analysis. Although we started with the ACT theory, I have always felt that most of the data argued for production-rule theories more generally rather than for any specific production-rule theory.

I have always found it difficult to think about things in a general way for very long, however. In the pursuit of what general notions might mean in a more specific system, one often discovers flaws in that generalized thinking, but one may also find unexpected opportunities. When I first tried to write this book, I came upon such an opportunity, which led to the abandonment of the original book and the publication of The Adaptive Character of Thought, in 1990. The thesis of that book was that we could understand much of human cognition directly . . .

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