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Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, Vol. 35(1), 1
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Read the article attached, and then discuss how the field of cognitive psychology has changed since the 1950's when radical behaviorism was the dominant paradigm in psychology.
Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, Vol. 35(1), 1 22 Winter 1999 . 1999 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. CCC 0022-5061/99/010001-22 UNDERSTANDING THE COGNITIVE REVOLUTION IN PSYCHOLOGY JOHN D. GREENWOOD In this paper it is argued that the cognitive revolution in psychology is not best represented either as a Kuhnian paradigm shift, or as a movement from an instrumentalist to a realist conception of psychological theory, or as a continuous evolution out of more liberalized forms of behaviorism, or as a return to the form of structuralist psychology practiced by Wundt and Titchener. It is suggested that the move from behaviorism to cognitivism is best represented in terms of the replacement of (operationally defined) intervening variables by genuine hypothetical constructs possessing cognitive surplus meaning, and that the cognitive revolution of the 1950s continued a cognitive tradition that can be traced back to the 1920s. . 1999 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. In this paper I provide a characterization of a recent historical episode that I believe has been much misunderstood: the so-called cognitive revolution in psychology. Although it is a matter of debate whether there was a genuine revolution in the usual sense in which this term is employed in the history of science (the dramatic overthrow and replacement of prior theories and methods), I believe it is important to recognize that the advent of cognitive theories in the 1950s did mark a fairly radical theoretical discontinuity, and precisely the sort of theoretical discontinuity that is characteristic of many revolutionary episodes in the history of science (Cohen, 1985). My argument, however, is not really intended as a contribution to the general continuity versus discontinuity debate about the development of the cognitive revolution. General debates about whether significant episodes in the history of science constitute a progressive and continuous development or a discontinuous transformation are not particularly illuminative, as Peter Galison (1997) has forcefully argued. Galison has noted that radical breaks in theoretical practice have occurred during periods of continuity in experimental or technological practice (and vice versa), and has suggested that the history of a discipline as a whole is better represented as an irregular stone fence or rough brick wall rather than as adjacent columns of stacked bricks (1997, p. 19). This seems to be especially true of the history of psychology. Significant historical episodes represent continuities as well as discontinuities, and on a variety of different levels: the task of the historian is to discern their contingent interrelation or intercalation (Galisons term) at different periods. Thus, although the account offered in this paper is critical of competing accounts of the cognitive revolution in terms of continuous development versus radical discontinuity, its main goal is to suggest some neglected discon- JOHN D. GREENWOOD is professor of philosophy and psychology at City College and the Graduate School of the City University of New York. Educated at the Universities of Edinburgh and Oxford, his teaching and research interests are in the philosophy and history of social and psychological science. His most recent works include Realism, Identity and Emotion: Reclaiming Social Psychology (1994) and (as editor) The Mark of the Social: Invention or Discovery? (1997). Address for correspondence: Department of Philosophy, City College, 138th Street & Convent Avenue, New York, NY 10031. E-mail: [email protected] 1 JOHN D. GREENWOOD tinuities and continuities that hopefully improve our understanding of this complex but very significant episode in the history of modern psychology.1 To endorse Galisons historiographical perspective is not, however, to accept that all putative historical accounts of the cognitive revolution merely describe some aspect of it, and in this paper I reject some traditional, reactionary, and revisionary accounts. Many traditional accounts treat the cognitive revolution as a radically discontinuous break with the hegemony of behaviorism, in which a novel cognitive paradigm displaced the previously entrenched behaviorist paradigm. Many scholars treat the cognitive revolution in psychology as having essentially evolved out of independent developments in computer science and linguistics, while some have suggested, and others have complained, that it marked a return to the form of structuralist psychology practiced by Wilhelm Wundt and Edward B. Titchener in the early decades of the twentieth century. More recent revisionary accounts have argued that the cognitive revolution developed naturally and continuously out of the increasingly liberal attitudes to internal cognitive states adopted by later behaviorists. I believe that these accounts are seriously flawed, and in this paper I try to explain why.2 In their place, I offer an account of the cognitive revolution (albeit partial and provisional) in terms of a neglected discontinuity between behaviorism and cognitive psychology with respect to the content of theories, and a neglected continuity with a tradition of cognitive theory (distinct from structuralism) that began in the early decades of the twentieth century. PARADIGMS AND THEORETICAL REALISM The movement from behaviorism to cognitivism that is often characterized as the cognitive revolution is not best represented in terms of a Kuhnian paradigm shift (Lachman, Lachman, & Butterfield, 1979; Palermo, 1971; Weimer & Palermo, 1973) in which one theoretical paradigm gives way to another under the pressure of an empirical anomaly or set of anomalies (Kuhn, 1970).3 The various anomalies that eventually faced behaviorism, such as the discovery of biological limits on conditioning (Breland & Breland, 1961; Garcia & Koelling, 1966), and doubts about the ability of conditioning theory to accommodate linguistic performance (Chomsky, 1959; Lashley, 1951), did not result in the abandonment of the central principles of operant or classical conditioning theories the core theoretical elements of the behaviorist paradigm. Moreover, behaviorists continued to maintain their in-house journals, their own APA division, and a sizable professional membership (Leahey, 1997). Nor were these recognized anomalies the primary stimulus for the development of cognitive theories in the 1950s, which was provided by outside developments in artificial intelligence and the computer simulation of cognitive abilities (Baars, 1986; Gardner, 1985). 1. It is, of course, an episode that continues to develop, and in historically interesting ways. Some have claimed that the development of connectionist challenges to traditional rules and representations theories of cognition in the 1980s amounted to a second cognitive revolution (Rumelhart & McClelland, 1986; Schneider, 1987). Others have suggested that developments in connectionist theory and more recent dynamical systems theory have marked a return to earlier forms of associationist psychology (Haselager, 1997). I do not find either of these claims at all convincing, but consideration of them is beyond the scope of the present paper, which is focused on the initial development of the cognitive revolution. However, these important later developments will need to be accommodated by any comprehensive historical account of the progress of the cognitive revolution. 2. References for these different historical accounts are provided at the points that they are considered in the text. 3. As is well known, Kuhn himself thought that psychology was pre-paradigmatic. UNDERSTANDING THE COGNITIVE REVOLUTION IN PSYCHOLOGY Certainly, the relation between behaviorism and cognitive psychology is not best represented as a conflict between competing and exclusive theoretical paradigms, on analogy with historical conflicts between, for example, the physical theories of Newton and Einstein in the early twentieth century, or between wave and particle theories of light in the early nineteenth century. The evidence that favored and led to the adoption of Einsteins theory and the wave theory of light appeared to demonstrate the general inadequacy of Newtonian theory and the particle theory of light, and thus led to their complete rejection by most scientists. Yet nobody not even dedicated cognitivists seriously imagined that either the anomalies noted above, or their theoretical biological and cognitive resolutions, demonstrated the general inadequacy of theories of classical or operant conditioning. 4 These recognized anomalies, and their theoretical biological and cognitive resolutions, only led to a delimitation of the scope of explanations in terms of conditioning (albeit long overdue), and the extension of underdeveloped biological and cognitive explanations to those domains for which conditioning theory had proved to be inadequate. It was only because too many behaviorists grossly overestimated the scope of conditioning explanations, and presumed that conditioning theory enabled us (in principle, if not in practice) to explain virtually all forms of animal and human behavior, including complex forms of human behavior such as language, that behaviorism faced these empirical problems and challenges.5 Behaviorists were not always so intellectually imperialistic, and biological limits on learning and the possible inability of conditioning (or habit) theories to explain higher cognitive processes were recognized by the early pioneers of conditioning theory, such as Conwy Lloyd Morgan (1896), who conceived of such laws of learning as covering only a limited range of human behaviors. Indeed, one useful consequence of the cognitive revolution was to return conditioning theory and comparative psychology in general to the much more reasonable position advocated by Lloyd Morgan in the 1890s (B. F. Skinner and his radical behaviorist followers aside), which recognized possible qualitative differences between human and animal psychological processing, as well as obvious continuities between them. In fact, some neobehaviorists were already returning to that position, as the cognitive revolution was emerging, and as they began to engage more complex behaviors such as language or symbolic behavior (Kuenne, 1946; Miller, 1959; Osgood, 1957; Spence, 1937). Morgans Canon (Morgan, 1894) was originally merely a caution against overestimating the application of cognitive explanations in the animal kingdom, transformed by theorists such as Edward L. Thorndike, John B. Watson, Clark L. Hull, and B. F. Skinner into an effective prohibition against cognitive explanations in both the animal and human realm. The cognitive revolution is also not best represented as a revolution in terms of a paradigm shift with respect to attitudes towards theories, in the sense of a shift from an instru 4. Because of this feature, the de facto maintenance of theories of classical and operant conditioning by contemporary behaviorists in the midst of the cognitive revolution does not itself represent a serious historical anomaly as if there continued to be many supporters of the Newtonian theory in the midst of the Einsteinian revolution in physics. What would be historically anomalous is any behaviorist who still maintained that classical and operant conditioning can explain every form of animal and human behavior he or she would be like a contemporary physicist who believed that Newtons theory is about to make a comeback and displace Einsteins theory. 5. See, for example, Clark L. Hull, who maintained in the Preface of Principles of Behavior (1943a, p. v): . . . that all behavior, individual and social, moral and immoral, normal and psychopathic, is generated from the same primary laws: that the differences in the objective behavioral manifestations are due to the differing conditions under which habits are set up and function. JOHN D. GREENWOOD mentalist to a realist conception of theories, that is, from the treatment of theories of cognitive and biological states and processes as mere linguistic instruments that facilitate the integration and prediction of empirical laws, to their treatment as theoretical references to putatively real cognitive and biological states and processes. 6 Although this is the usual historical account advanced by those in the cognitive science community (Baars, 1986), and popularized by Jerry Fodor (Fodor, 1975), it is of doubtful validity. It is quite clear that Hull (1943b) and Edward C. Tolman (1948), for example, were realists (in the above sense) about biological states (drives) and cognitive states (cognitive maps) respectively. Thus, to quote Tolman, for example: For the behaviorist, mental processes are to be identified and defined in terms of the behaviors to which they lead. Mental processes are, for the behaviorist, naught but inferred determinants of behavior, which ultimately are deducible from behavior. Behavior and these inferred determinants are both objectively defined types of entity. (Tolman, 1932, p. 3) Not even the more radical behaviorists denied the existence of cognitive states. When John B. Watson (1925) equated thoughts with movements of the larynx, his central claim (following the Russian reflexologists Ivan M. Sechenov and Vladimir M. Bechterev) was that cognitive states are motor or behavioral responses rather than centrally initiated states, and thus non-candidates for the explanation of motor or behavioral responses. B. F. Skinners objection to cognitive states, the existence of which he never denied, was based upon the redundancy of putative explanatory references to cognitive states (the second link), when these are operationally defined in terms of stimulus inputs (the first link) and behavioral outputs (the third link): The objection to inner states is not that they do not exist, but that they are not relevant in a functional analysis. We cannot account for the behavior of any system while staying wholly inside it; eventually we must turn to forces operating upon the organism from without. Unless there is a weak spot in our causal chain so that the second link is not lawfully determined by the first, or the third by the second, then the first and third links must be lawfully related. If we must always go back beyond the second link for prediction and control, we may avoid many tiresome and exhausting digressions by examining the third link as a function of the first. (Skinner, 1953, p. 35) Conversely, early cognitivists were, in fact, extremely wary about committing themselves to the existence of cognitive states. Roy Lachman, Janet Lachman, and Earl Butterfield (1979), for example, after reviewing dozens of experimental studies of perception, memory, linguistic processing, and the like, nonetheless concluded that it was too early to say if cog 6. It ought to be stressed that the term realist is employed in this paper only to mark the position that treats theoretical terms as putatively referential, as opposed to the instrumentalist position that treats theoretical terms as nothing more than (non-referential) linguistic instruments that facilitate the integration and prediction of empirical laws. It is not employed to mark any of the bewildering variety of different positions that are often also characterized as realist: for example, positions in classical debates about the nature of universals, our knowledge of the existence and properties of physical objects in the external world, and in modern debates about whether the history of science demonstrates the general or approximate truth of contemporary scientific theories. The realist versus instrumentalist debate about the putative reference of scientific theories was the type of debate engaged by Andreas Osiander and Christopher Clavius over the status of the Copernican theory in the sixteenth century. Osiander was an instrumentalist who maintained that the Copernican theory was a useful and economical calculation device that did not purport to give a true description of the positions of the planets (and was thus not heretical). Clavius was a realist who maintained that the Copernican theory did purport to describe the true positions of the planets, and was false (and thus heretical). Similar disputes occurred over the status of the atomic and quantum theories in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. UNDERSTANDING THE COGNITIVE REVOLUTION IN PSYCHOLOGY nitive states really exist! Some cognitive theorists, such as John Anderson (1981), continued to maintain an agnostic view. Some were simply inconsistent: Richard Nisbett and Lee Ross (1980), for example, after having appealed to dozens of experimental studies that they claimed demonstrated that persons regularly make inaccurate judgments about their cognitive states, then declared themselves agnostic on the question of whether there are any cognitive states! THE REAL REVOLUTION:FROM INTERVENING VARIABLETO HYPOTHETICAL CONSTRUCT In consequence, it is perhaps natural and tempting to see the move from behaviorism to cognitive psychology as a progressive liberalization of attitudes toward theories, particularly theories postulating intersubjectively unobservable internal states. On this increasingly popular view, cognitive psychology is characterized as having emerged or evolved continuously out of more liberalized forms of neobehaviorism, which allowed for the introduction of internal variables such as internal or mediating r-s connections, so long as these were operationally defined (Amsel, 1989; Kendler & Kendler, 1975; Leahey, 1992; Miller, 1959). However, while it may be true that later behaviorists might have felt more comfortable and less apologetic about postulating internal states than their earlier fellows (although neither Hull or Tolman appear to have been especially reticent in this respect), this characterization also seems to be seriously flawed. There was a very significant difference between the types of internal states postulated by even the most liberal neobehaviorists and by cognitive psychologists from the 1950s onward. It is true that only Watson and Skinner, for their diverse but essentially extreme positivistic reasons, were truly antitheoretical with respect to postulated internal states that are not intersubjectively observable. Most other behaviorists and neobehaviorists, and famously Hull and Tolman, allowed for the introduction of theoretical terms, or postulated intervening variables, so long as these were, at least ideally, rigidly and exhaustively defined operationally, via principles or laws relating stimulus inputs to internal states and internal states to behavioral outputs (Bergmann & Spence, 1941; Hull, 1943b; Pratt, 1939; Stevens, 1935; Tolman, 1936). It was Kenneth MacCorquodale and Paul Meehl (1948) who recognized the serious inadequacy of this characterization of theoretical terms. If intervening variables are rigorously and exhaustively defined in terms of empirical laws, they cannot function as substantive (non-vacuous) explanations of empirical laws, or be creatively developed to generate novel empirical predictions. (As noted earlier, this was essentially the basis of Skinners justified dismissal of cognitive intervening variables as vacuous and thus predictively redundant explanatory fictions.) In order to generate substantive explanations and have the potential for further development, genuine theories, or hypothetical constructs, must possess 7 surplus meaning. Where this surplus meaning comes from in psychological science is amatter of some dispute, but that genuine theories poses such surplus meaning is not for this is precisely what accounts for their explanatory power and creative predictive potential. In natural science, this substantive surplus meaning is often created via the exploitation of theoretical models and analogies, as in Niels Bohrs planetary theory of the atom and the wave theory of light. The constructive resources of analogy and metaphor enable sci 7. The notion of surplus meaning employed by MacCorquodale and Meehl derives from Hans Reichenbach 1938. JOHN D. GREENWOOD entists to introduce meaningful descriptions of intersubjectively unobservable phenomena by exploiting, via analogy and metaphor, the semantics of our descriptions of properties of familiar and discriminable systems (Campbell, 1920; Harre, 1970; Hesse, 1966, 1976; Boyd, 1979; Holyoak & Thagard, 1997; Gentner & Markman, 1997). This enables scientists to introduce meaningful theoretical descriptions such as electric charge (on analogy with a charge of gunpowder), curvature of space (on analogy with curvature of a sphere), and so on by continuous steps to the most esoteric terminology of modern physics (Hesse, 1976, p. 8). This account can be extended to theories in cognitive psychology, many of which postulate representational states such as memories and beliefs that are held to have some of the semantic and syntactic properties of linguistic structures. Indeed, such an account has been explicitly developed by Richard Boyd, with respect to computational theories in cognitive psychology: A concern with exploring analogies, or similarities, between men and computational devices has been the most important single factor influencing postbehaviorist cognitive psychology. Even among cognitive psychologists who despair of the actual machine simulation of human cognition, computer metaphors have an indispensable role in the formulation and articulation of theoretical positions. These metaphors have provided much of the basic theoretical vocabulary of contemporary psychology. (Boyd, 1979, p. 360, my emphasis.) It is in precisely this area that we seem to find the very real discontinuity between even liberalized forms of neobehaviorist theory and cognitive theories developed from the 1950s onward. Liberalized forms of behaviorist theory never really possessed significant surplus meaning. Concepts such as drive, habit strength, divergent habit family hierarchy, pure stimulus act, and the like, and all the internal variables of mediation theory, were provided with rigorous operational definitions, no matter how awkward and unwieldy they proved to be. Even those neobehaviorists who rejected the extreme antitheoretical or atheoretical positions of Watson and Skinner maintained that surplus meaning had no place in psychological science. They insisted that the only meaning possessed by intervening variables is their relationship to both independent and dependent variables (Kendler, 1952, p. 271) and that valid intervening variables...are the only kinds of constructs admissible in sound scientific theory (Marx, 1951, p. 246). In contrast, cognitive theories from the 1950s onwards did possess surplus meaning despite the frequent rhetorical avowals of a commitment to the operational definition of theories by cognitive psychologists. Such avowals in practice amounted to nothing more than a recognition of the need to provide empirical operational measures of cognitive constructs, and a means of testing predictions derived from them (in conjunction with a variety of auxiliary hypotheses and background assumptions). Alan Newell, Clifford Shaw, and Herbert Simon (1958), for example, advertised their computational theory of problem solving as a thoroughly operational theory of human problem-solving. However, all that Newell, Shaw, and Simon provided was a set of behavioral predictions derived from their theory and a means of empirically assessing them. Neither the axioms of logic described by the theory (adapted from Bertrand Russell and Alfred N. Whitehead ), or the rules of the sentential calculus employed in the derivation of theorems, were defined operationally. While theoretical definitions of the sensory register, attention, long-and short-term memory, depth grammar, cognitive heuristics, visual perception, propositional and imagery coding, episodic and semantic memory, template-matching, procedural networks, inference, induc UNDERSTANDING THE COGNITIVE REVOLUTION IN PSYCHOLOGY tion, and the like have abounded in the cognitive psychological literature, operational definitions as opposed to specified operational measures of these phenomena have been virtually non-existent. So there is a significant discontinuity between behaviorist and cognitive theories. To put it bluntly, so-called liberalized neobehaviorist theories did not, in general, constitute genuine and substantive psychological theories at all. 8 Cognitive psychological theories from the 1950s onward generally did. The neobehaviorist error was to confuse the reasonable requirement for operational measures of postulated theoretical states and processes with the peculiar notion that the meaning of theoretical descriptions must be (can only be) specified in terms of such operational measures a confusion neobehaviorists inherited from scientific empiricist philosoph...
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