23 Mar 2015
Evaluate the influence of modern technology on cognitive theories of human memory
Cognitive Science is a branch in the field of psychology that studies the mental processes of the people. These mental processes include attention, perception, memory, recollection and learning. Cognitive psychology is seen as an interrelated field where it intersects with other disciplines such as philosophy, computer science, neuroscience and linguistic. Out of all those mental processes that were mentioned above memory has been of great interest and most researched, for it being a very complex topic. There have been several research conducted in order to find the nature of memory.
Memory is the ability of a living organism to store, retain and retrieve information. In cognitive psychology memory is divided into three stores, namely the sensory, short term and long term. The information is processed in all these three stores. This is often referred to as the information processing model. George Miller (1956) had proposed an idea that is fundamental to the information processing model. The concept is ‘chunking' and the capacity of the short term memory. Miller stated that short term memory could hold only up to 5-9 chunks of information, where a chunk is a meaningful unit and it could refer to words, digits, people faces etc.,. This concept was considered to be the basic element in the subsequent theories of memory. The other theory of human memory, the multi store model was proposed by Atkinson and Shiffrin (1968). Their theory was very influential within the information-processing model. They also suggested three types of memory stores, namely sensory, short term and long term stores. Sensory store holds temporary information that is acquired from the environment in an unprocessed state. The information that is given attention is processed to the short term store, some of the information is rehearsed in the short term store and passed on to the long term memory. This information is retrieved on active searching.
One of the major contributions of the cognitive science to the field of psychology is the information processing model where the metaphor of ‘brain as computer' is taken in the literal sense. Cognitive scientists try to study the nature of intelligence from a scientific point of view by creating computer models of the human mind that helps us in explaining the processes that take place during problem solving, remembering, perceiving etc. It is believed that if we observe how does robotics and expert systems accomplish tasks assigned to them, then we are using the Artificial Intelligence to understand the working of the human mind.
However the influence of modern technologies on the cognitive theories of human memory is note worthy. It has had positive as well as negative impact. Firstly, let us look at the positive side of using metaphors of mind that are borrowed from the technological advances. The usage of computer metaphor helped in the development of important scientific breakthroughs. It led to the invention of artificial intelligence that helps people in all the fields to make better utilization of the information in order to work smarter rather than working hard. Robotics and other expert systems have also helped humans in making their life much simpler and easier. This can be considered as a major contribution of the cognitive psychology to the modern technology.
The other advantage of using computer metaphor to human mind has made the understanding of the mental process involved in memory very simpler. The nature of memory was a very complex and mysterious concept initially, however with the computer analogy better understanding of the human memory has been achieved. The working of the mind is very similar to that of a computer in several ways. Computers receive information, codes it in particular format, which it can understand and when necessary it is retrieved. This is the same activity that a human mind does. They receive information from the environment, process it and store it in mind in a form that they perceive and on later stages they are able to retrieve them effectively. Thus, we ourselves can see that a metaphor of mind borrowed from the advanced technology has made our understanding very efficient and easier.
So far we have seen the advantages of using metaphors of mind. However as it was mentioned earlier this concept is not without its drawbacks. Firstly the concept is overly simplistic. By using computer model as an example we do not consider the complexity of the human behavior. Understanding human behavior is a very complicated phenomenon for it involves biological, chemical, or/and psychological reactions within the body/mind before it produces any outcome or behavior. Having many things to be considered, the computer model does not make our understanding in depth, and creates a very easy picture about the mental processes of the human mind. Secondly, we can say that this concept is very hypothetical. Computer model itself is a theory. A theory is drawn out of a hypothesis, which is only assumed to be the truth and necessarily need not be the reality. In this state, trying to explain human mind in terms of computer model may not be totally accurate. Psychology being a scientific study needs to conduct lab research for us to believe in any idea that they propose though the comparison between the human mind and the computer is widely accepted.
Finally, I would like to conclude the essay by saying that the usage of computer analogy in the field of cognitive study has made our understanding of the human mind more convenient. For a field that is full of complexities this concept has contributed enormously in a positive way. Every aspect has pros and cons, similarly this concept also has some disadvantages that were mentioned few lines above, and nevertheless, I would personally say that the advantages have overweighed the disadvantages.
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