This important volume examines the phenomena of cognition from an adaptive perspective. Rather than adhering to the typical practice in cognitive psychology of trying to predict behavior from a model of cognitive mechanisms, this book develops a number of models that successfully predict behavior from the structure of the environment to which cognition is adapted. The methodology -- called rational analysis -- involves specifying the information-processing goals of the system, the structure of the environment, and the computational constraints on the system, allowing predictions about behavior to be made by determining what behavior would be optimal under these assumptions. The Adaptive Character of Thought applies this methodology in great detail to four cognitive phenomena: memory, categorization, causal inference, and problem solving.
"Anderson has made an important methodological contribution by forcefully bringing the rational approach to the attention of cognitive psychologists."
—American Journal of Psychology
"This substantive book may give new direction to much research in cognitive science….Perhaps the most encouraging implication of this volume is that by its very departure from traditional approaches to cognitive science, it helps enforce the breadth and, by implication, the potential for adaptability of the discipline."
Contents: Part I:Introduction. Preliminaries. Levels of a Cognitive Theory. Current Formulation of the Levels Issues. The New Theoretical Framework. Is Human Cognition Rational? The Rest of This Book. Appendix: Non-Identifiability and Response Time. Part II:Memory. Preliminaries. A Rational Analysis of Human Memory. The History Factor. The Contextual Factor. Relationship of Need and Probability to Probability and Latency of Recall. Combining Information From Cues. Implementation in the ACT Framework. Effects of Subject Strategy. Conclusions. Part III:Categorization. Preliminaries. The Goal of Categorization. The Structure of the Environment. Recapitulation of Goals and Environment. The Optimal Solution. An Iterative Algorithm for Categorization. Application of the Algorithm. Survey of the Experimental Literature. Conclusion. Appendix: The Ideal Algorithm. Part IV:Causal Inference. Preliminaries. Basic Formulation of the Causal Inference Problem. Causal Estimation. Cues for Causal Inference. Integration of Statistical and Temporal Cues. Discrimination. Abstraction of Causal Laws. Implementation in a Production System. Conclusion. Appendix. Part V:Problem Solving. Preliminaries. Making a Choice Among Simple Actions. Combining Steps. Studies of Hill Climbing. Means-Ends Analysis. Instantiation of Indefinite Objects. Conclusions on Rational Analysis of Problem Solving. Implementation in ACT. Appendix: Problem Solving and Clotheslines. Part VI:Retrospective. Preliminaries. Twelve Questions About Rational Analysis.
Over the past 20 years enormous advances have been made in our understanding of basic cognitive processes concerning issues such as: What are the basic modules of the cognitive system? How can these modules be modelled? How are the modules implemented in the brain? The book series "Students in Cognition" seeks to provide state-of-the-art summaries of this research, bringing together work on experimental psychology with that on computational modelling and cognitive neuroscience. Each book contains chapters written by leading figures in the field, which aim to provide comprehensive summaries of current research. The books should be both accessible and scholarly and be relevant to undergraduates, post-graduates, and research workers alike.