Cognitive revolution  

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Chomsky helped spark the cognitive revolution in psychology through his review of B. F. Skinner's Verbal Behavior, in which he challenged the behaviorist approach to the study of behavior and language dominant in the 1950s.


"“[ the cognitive revolution ] was an all-out effort to establish meaning as the central concept of psychology […]. It was not a revolution against behaviorism with the aim of transforming behaviorism into a better way of pursuing psychology by adding a little mentalism to it. […] Its aim was to discover and to describe formally the meanings that human beings created out of their encounters with the world, and then to propose hypotheses about what meaning-making processes were implicated." (Jerome Bruner, 1990, Acts of Meaning, p. 2)

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The cognitive revolution was an intellectual movement that began in the 1950s as an interdisciplinary study of the mind and its processes. It later became known collectively as cognitive science. The relevant areas of interchange were between the fields of psychology, anthropology, and linguistics. They used approaches developed within the then-nascent fields of artificial intelligence, computer science, and neuroscience. A key goal of early cognitive psychology was to apply the scientific method to the study of human cognition. This was done by designing experiments that used computational models of artificial intelligence to systematically test theories about human mental processes in a controlled laboratory setting.

Several important publications triggered the cognitive revolution. These include psychologist George Miller's 1956 article "The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two" linguist Noam Chomsky's Syntactic Structures (1957) and his review of B. F. Skinner's Verbal Behavior (1959), and foundational works in the field of artificial intelligence by John McCarthy, Marvin Minsky, Allen Newell, and Herbert Simon, such as the 1958 article "Elements of a Theory of Human Problem Solving". Ulric Neisser's 1967 book Cognitive Psychology was also a landmark contribution.

In the 1960s, the Harvard Center for Cognitive Studies and the Center for Human Information Processing at the University of California San Diego were influential in developing the academic study of cognitive science. By the early 1970s, the cognitive movement had surpassed behaviorism as a psychological paradigm. Furthermore, by the early 1980s the cognitive approach had become the dominant line of research inquiry across most branches in the field of psychology.

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