A particularly influential stream within cognitivism has been information processing theory, which compares the human mind to a computer to develop models that explain how cognitive processes work and how they determine behavior.
In this article, we will describe the approaches and main models of information processing theory. We will also do a brief historical tour of the conception of the human being as a machine, proposed by all kinds of theorists for centuries but which reached its peak with the emergence of this approach.
The theory of information processing
Information processing theory is a set of psychological models that they see the human being as an active processor of stimuli (Information or “input”) that you get from your surroundings. This view is opposed to the passive conception of people which characterizes other orientations, such as behaviorism and psychoanalysis.
These patterns are rooted in cognitivism, a paradigm that argues that thoughts and other mental content influence behavior and should be distinguished from it. They became popular in the 1950s as a reaction to the behaviorist position, prevalent at the time, which conceived of mental processes as forms of behavior.
Research and theoretical models developed within this perspective have been applied to a large number of mental processes. It should be noted special emphasis on cognitive development; From information processing theory, the brain structures themselves and their relationship to maturation and socialization are analyzed.
The theorists of this orientation advocate a fundamentally progressive conception of cognitive development, which is opposed to the cognitive-evolutionary models by stages, like that of Jean Piaget, focused on the qualitative changes which appear as children grow older (and which are also recognized by information processing).
The human being as a computer
The models resulting from this approach are based on the metaphor of the mind as a computer; in this sense, the brain is conceived as the physical support, or material, of cognitive functions (memory, language, etc.), which would be equivalent to programs or software. This approach serves as a backbone for these theoretical propositions.
Computers are information processors that respond to the influence of “internal states”, software, which can therefore be used as a tool to operationalize the contents and mental processes of people. In this way, he seeks to extract hypotheses about human cognition from its unobservable manifestations.
Information processing begins with the reception of stimuli (inputs in computer language) through the senses. Then we actively encode information to make sense of it and be able to combine it with the one we store in long-term memory. Finally, an exit is performed.
Evolution of this metaphor
Different authors have drawn attention to the similarities between people and machines throughout history. The ideas of Thomas Hobbes, for example, manifest a view of people as “animal-machines” which was also echoed by the father of behavioralism, John Watson, and other representatives of this orientation, such as Clark L. Hull. .
Alan Turing, mathematician and computer scientist, Published in 1950 the article “Computational machines and intelligence”, in which described what later it would be known as artificial intelligence. His work has had a great influence in the field of scientific psychology, promoting the emergence of models based on the computer metaphor.
Computer-type psychological propositions never became hegemonic in themselves; however, gave way to the “cognitive revolution”Rather, this was a natural progression from American media behaviorism, with which mental processes had already been added to the basic approaches of the behaviorist tradition.
Models and main authors
Below, we will briefly explain four of the most influential models that have emerged within the framework of information processing theory.
Taken together, these propositions explain many phases of information processing, in which memory plays a particularly important role.
1. The Atkinson and Shiffrin multi-warehouse model
In 1968, Richard Atkinson and Richard Shiffrin proposed a model which he divided the memory into three components (“Programs”, from the computer metaphor): the sensory register, which allows the entry of information, a short-term storage which would become known as “short-term memory” and a long-term one , long-term memory.
2. Craik and Lockhart treatment levels
Soon after, in 1972, Fergus Craik and Robert Lockhart added to the multi-store model the idea that information can be processed to increasing degrees of depth depending on whether we only perceive it or pay more attention to it. attention, categorize it and / or grant it means. Deep processing, as opposed to superficial processing, promotes learning.
3. Rumelhart and McClelland’s connection model
In 1986, these authors published “Parallel Distributed Processing: Research on the Microstructure of Cognition”, which remains a key reference work in this approach. In this work they presented their model of the neural networks for information storage, Approved by scientific research.
4. Baddeley’s multicomponent model
Alan Baddeley’s proposition (1974, 2000) currently dominates the cognitivist perspective of working memory. Baddeley describes a central executive system that monitors entrances obtained through receptive language (phonological loop), images and literacy (visuospatial agenda). An episodic buffer would be equivalent to short-term memory.
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Atkinson, RC and Shiffrin, RM (1968). “Human memory: a proposed system and its control processes”. In Spence, KW & Spence, JT (Eds.), The Psychology of Learning and Motivation (Vol. 2). New York: Academic Press.
Baddeley, AD and Hitch, G. (1974). “Working memory”. In GH Bower (Ed.), The Psychology of Learning and Motivation: Advances in Research and Theory (Vol. 8). New York: Academic Press.
Baddeley, AD (2000). Episodic buffering: a new component of working memory? Trends in Cognitive Science, 4: 417-423.
Craik, FIM and Lockhart, RS (1972). Processing levels: a framework for the search for memory. Journal of Verbal Learning & Verbal Behavior, 11 (6): 671-84.
Rumelhart, DE, McClelland, JL & PDP Research Group (1987). Parallel distributed processing: explorations into the microstructure of cognition. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.