Method and Tactics in Cognitive Science

By Walter Kintsch; James R. Miller et al. | Go to book overview

9
Competitive Argumentation in
Computational Theories of
Cognition

Kurt VanLehn John Seely Brown Xerox Palo Alto Research Center James Greeno University of Pittsburgh

During the past two decades, artificial intelligence and linguistics have had a major impact on the form of theories in cognitive psychology. Prior to about 1960, most theories in cognitive psychology considered information in relatively abstract terms, such as features, items, and chunks. Starting in the 1960s, and increasing during the 1970s, an additional theme in psychological theory has been to take into account the specific information that is present in the tasks that provide the material for theoretical analyses. The difference can be seen, for instance, in psychological analyses of problem solving that were developed in the 1950s, compared with analyses that have been worked out in the 1970s. In the earlier analyses, problem solving was considered as selection of a response (solution) that initially had low probability. Factors in the situation were examined for their facilitating or inhibiting effect on selection of the needed response. In computational models, specific task situations are represented, and programs are written that use the information in those representations to simulate processes of actually constructing solutions to specific problems.

The capability of analyzing the details of processing specific information is clearly an advance. For example, it enables psychological analyses of human behaviors that one would label "understanding" that are much more detailed than those provided previously. However, there is a well known danger to such an approach. Analyses can become mired in their increased precision and detail, with the result that it is extremely difficult to separate fundamental principles from their supporting detail. Yet explicit principles are needed in order to define or at least constrain the classes of processes and structures that are postulated.

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