Human Memory: Paradigms and Paradoxes

Human Memory: Paradigms and Paradoxes

Human Memory: Paradigms and Paradoxes

Human Memory: Paradigms and Paradoxes

Synopsis

The fact that cognitive psychology has become largely concerned with a handful of laboratory tasks has brought expressions of concern and suggestions about how to place the field on a more solid footing. The view expressed here, however, is that the classic cognitive paradigms have become fascinating puzzles on which some of the best minds in the field have labored. An examination of the development of research in these areas yields many examples of the scientific method at its most sophisticated, as well as impressive examples of how theories and data can interact. Covering the whole temporal range of memory experiences, this volume provides a review of the major paradigms that have been used by experimental psychologists to study human memory.

Excerpt

Many commentators have noted a disturbing aspect of research in cognitive psychology. Work in this field becomes more and more driven by a limited number of experimental tasks. Initially, these tasks are designed to illuminate some important aspect of cognitive functioning. However, over time, the tasks themselves become the chief concern. Researchers try to understand every little detail of such tasks with little regard for whether these details are relevant to important general issues.

I use the term paradigms to refer to these tasks that form the core of research and knowledge in the field. the famous philosopher of science, Thomas Kuhn (1962), popularized this term. My use of it is only one of many possible ways in which this term is commonly employed. in fact, Kuhn himself used this term in at least 21 different ways (Masterman, 1970). As a result of this multiplicity of usages, there are disputes as to whether cognitive psychology has a paradigm, whether it is a paradigm, whether it will eventually develop a paradigm, or whether it already has many (and probably too many) paradigms. However, my usage is probably the most common way in which the term "paradigm" is employed by cognitive psychologists, although it seems to bear little relationship to what Kuhn usually had in mind.

How should one react to the fact that cognitive psychology has become largely concerned with a handful of laboratory tasks? Most commentators have understandably reacted with expressions of concern, as well as suggestions as to how to place the field on a more solid footing. On the other hand, my reaction is to embrace the status quo with undisguised glee. Each of these classic cognitive paradigms has become a fas-

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