Twelve Issues for Cognitive Science

Donald Norman (1980). Cognitive Science, 4, 1-32.


Article Summary


In addition to the roles of culture, of social interaction, of emotions, and motivation, Norman (1980) discusses 12 concepts, or issues, must be considered in the study of Cognition. He asserts that Cognitive Science should adopt a broad view which includes consideration of evidence from various disciplines, such as the neurosciences, cognitive sociology and anthropology, linguistics, psychology, and the study of artificially intelligent mechanisms. Norman believes in the value of multiple philosophies, multiple viewpoints, multiple approaches to common issues. He suggests that Cognitive Science brings together heretofore disparate disciplines to work on common themes.

Norman (1980) believes that the study Cognitive Science requires a more complete understanding of the interaction of various issues of concern, that no part (issue) is independent, and that the whole requires an understanding of the parts, and vice versa. In short, he argues for a more wholistic study of human cognition, which includes human evolutionary and cultural history, and the social nature of human interaction, rather than a fractionalized, “component” view of human information processing. He believes there is more to human intelligence than the pure cognitive system, and that a science of Cognition cannot afford to ignore other aspects.

Norman's Twelve Issues (Or Less Understood Topics) in Cognitive Science

1. Belief Systems We acquire a lot of knowledge over our lifetime which then colors our interactions with others, with the environment, and even our internal processing. Cultural knowledge as experienced, rather than taught.

2. Consciousness Attention, James (1890), the taking possession of the mind of one out of what seems several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought. Subconscious processing seems essential to functioning.

3. Development How does a child differ from an adult? Animate organisms take very long times to reach adulthood: the human is learning new concepts throughout the entire life span. We are fundamentally organisms that learn, that develop over time.

4. Emotion Fight/Flight relic. Emotion as a possible coding device for memory (Geschwind).

5. Interaction We supplement our intelligence with social interaction, by our use of the environment, through the construction of artifacts. More should be done in cognitive science to examine the individual cognitive processes as they are used in interactive settings.

6&7. Language and Perception Well represented in the literature, but could be more informed with attention to other issues.

8. Learning There is more to learning than the simple accumulation of knowledge. We spend much of our lifetimes learning: in a sense, we learn from everything we do. Expert vs. Novice. Restructuring and reformulation as a result of experience; everyone’s learning experience is unique.

9. Memory Human memory is central to human cognition, and memory systems are central to cognitive systems. The complexities of retrieval from a very large memory store are not well understood. We need to understand the representation of knowledge, including the process that operates upon the representation.

10. Performance Study of output of cognition. So many muscles to control, so many degrees of freedom possible because of the numerous joints and the flexibility of the body, the computation of the proper motion of each antagonist muscle pair seems beyond possibility. Huge parts of the brain are devoted to motor control.

11. Skill A combination of learning and performance. Whole vs. Part; we are neither general purpose computational devices, all knowledge and abilities being treated alike, nor are we highly specialized subsystems, each independent of the rest. Major difference between expert and novice is timing (Bartlett). Perspective and practice.

12. Thought Can thought be studied in isolation? Role of environment; we solve some problems by imagining the environment, solve others by using the environment. The computer is an artificial extension of our intellect, invented by humans to extend human thought processes.


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