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A Brief History of Cognitive Psychology

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A BRIEF HISTORY OF COGNITIVE PSYCHOLOGY

As we have learned, a great portion of cognitive psychology deals with how

knowledge is represented in the mind. In this section on the history of cognitive

psychology we will review three major periods (for a detailed history see Solso

& MacLin, 2000; Wilson & Keil, 1999). First, we will deal with traditional ideas

Information Processing from a very early period. Then we touch on the way knowledge and thinking was

conceptualised by Renaissance scholars. Finally, we will deal with the modern

period with emphasis on current ideas and methods.

Early Thoughts on Thinking

Where did knowledge come from, and how is it represented in the mind? That

eternal question is fundamental to cognitive psychology as it has been through

the ages of humankind. Basically, two answers have been proposed. The

empiricists maintain that knowledge comes from experience, and the nativists

suggest that knowledge is based on innate characteristics of the brain. From a

scientific perspective, neither case can be definitively proved, so the argument

continues without clear resolution. With these issues clearly before us, let's

consider the way ancient philosophers and early psychologists grappled with the

issue. The fascination with knowledge can be traced to the earliest writings.

Early theories were concerned with the seat of thought and memory. Ancient

Egyptian hieroglyphics suggest their authors believed that knowledge was

localised in the heart--a view shared by the early Greek philosopher Aristotle

but not by Plato, who held that the brain was the locus of knowledge.

Cognition in the Renaissance and Beyond

Renaissance philosophers and theologians seemed generally satisfied that

knowledge was located in the brain. They considered that knowledge was acquired

not only through the physical senses (mundus sensibilis - touch, taste, smell,

vision, and hearing) but also from divine sources (mundus intellectualis--Deus).

During the eighteenth century, when philosophic psychology was brought to the

point where , scientific psychology could assume a role, the British empiricists,

George Berkeley, David Hume, and, later, James Mill and his son John Stuart

Mill suggested that internal representation is of three types: (1) direct sensory

events, (2) faint copies of percepts, or those that are stored in memory; and (3)

transformation of these faint copies, as in associated thought. These notions are

the basis of much current research in cognitive psychology.

During the nineteenth century, the early psychologists like Gustav Fechner, Franz

Brentano, Hermann Helmholtz, Wilhelm Wundt, G; E. Muller, Oswald Kulpe,

Hermann Ebbinghaus, Sir Francis Galton, Edward Titchener, and William James

and others started to break away from philosophy to form a discipline based on

empirical results rather than on speculation. By the last half of the nineteenth

century, theories of the representation of knowledge were clearly dichotomous:

that emphasised the structure of mental representation (Wundt, Titchner); and

the processes or acts (Brentano).

About the same time in America, James critically analysed the new psychology

that was developing in Germany. He established the first' psychological laboratory

in America, wrote the definitive work in psychology in 1890 (Principles of

Psychology), and developed a well-reasoned model of the mind. Perhaps James's

most direct link with modem cognitive psychology is in his view of memory, in

which both structure and process play an important role. F. C. Donders and James

Cattell, contemporaries of James's, performed experiments using the perception

of brief visual displays as a means of determining the time required for mental

operations. The technique, subject matter, procedures, and even the interpretation

of results of these early scientists

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