Progress in Modern Psychology: The Legacy of American Functionalism

By D. Alfred Owens; Mark Wagner | Go to book overview

9
Functionalist Themes in Research on Memory, Learning, and Cognition in Older Adults

MARTIN D. MURPHY AND TIMOTHY L. SNYDER

In chapter 3, Stephen Wilcox argues that most of modern experimental psychology, particularly cognitive psychology, does not adhere to the spirit of early functionalism. He assails cognitive psychologists for relying on dubious mental structures and internal inferential processes. In Wilcox's words, "Functionalism, as I see it, is nothing less than the rejection of the very concept of mental structure." In this chapter, Martin Murphy and Timothy Snyder take issue with this pejorative account. They propose that the cognitive psychology of aging, along with much of the rest of modern psychology, would fit comfortably under the broad, tolerant umbrella of early American functionalism. They highlight five major contributions of the early functionalist tradition to the study of cognitive gerontology: (1) Like the functionalists, cognitive psychologists have a strong interest in individual differences and in developmental processes in both children and older adults; (2) like the functionalists, cognitive psychologists use a variety of converging methods to seek answers to questions from more than one perspective; (3) like the functionalists, cognitive psychologists are often more interested in studying mental processes than in describing the structure of mind; (4) like the functionalists, cognitive psychologists are interested in mental processes that are outside of conscious awareness; and (5) like the functionalists, cognitive psychologists place a high value on applying theoretical understanding obtained in the laboratory to the everyday needs and challenges that face us all.

MW

With the aging of the baby-boom generation, we need to know more about development during adulthood, problems associated with aging, and es-

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