The Mind's We: Contextualism in Cognitive Psychology

The Mind's We: Contextualism in Cognitive Psychology

The Mind's We: Contextualism in Cognitive Psychology

The Mind's We: Contextualism in Cognitive Psychology

Synopsis

In a journey to the theoretical roots of human psychology, Diane Gillespie defends the concept of contextualism in a field in which mechanism has prevailed. Gillespie explains both theories in a historical overview of cognitive psychology and then contrasts them in three chapters on visual perception, memory, and categorization. She clarifies the inadequacy of mechanism as the sole model of cognition by including narratives based on her own life that focus on the dynamic ways we interact with the world.

Providing a subtheme of contemporary concern, Gillespie argues that a psychological theory open to everyday contexts has important implications for women, whose perspectives have been underrepresented in the literature of cognitive psychology. She does not posit contextualism as the next exclusive viewpoint but suggests instead a pluralism with no one viewpoint overshadowing the others.

Excerpt

Twelve years ago, in a course on cognitive psychology, I sat struggling with my first set of research articles concerned with mediated generalizations, information flow systems, and internal knowledge structures. Confident and comfortable in their tone, these psychologists enthusiastically expanded a new enterprise: the study of complex intellectual processes. Behaviorism and its accompanying antimentalism lay gasping on the mat, still firmly pinned by Noam Chomsky (1959) refutation of B. F. Skinner's theory of language. To warn against the study of mental concepts, Skinner had always called up the specter of the "unscientific" psychologist, who, in studying the unobservable, obstructed real scientific progress. Unfazed by such a potential charge, these new psychologists termed themselves "cognitive scientists." Adopting an information-processing model, they asserted that cognition could be studied indirectly, that is, inferentially and structurally. They used the analogy of the computer to argue that cognitive processes operated mechanically, proceeded formally, and functioned autonomously, even though invisible to the person using the computer.

As I finished the articles, I felt disquieted, confused. I rehearsed the objections that humanists had made to Skinner's behaviorism, but these seemed inappropriate challenges to the view of the mind set forth by this new anti-Skinnerian breed of psychologist. At that moment, my then three-year-old son pulled on my arm and said, "Mom, come here." He pulled me from an abstract world of formal procedures to a much messier one. How were we going to get the last block on his tower? Still thinking about the view of cognition laid forth in the articles, I watched him manipulate the concrete world around him, interact with me in an ongoing dialogue, and reflect to himself as he studied his possibilities. in this engagement with my son, I realized something essential was missing in what I had been reading--he asked me, for example, for attention and engaged me in . . .

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