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    I am doing a essay on "discuss the use of computer modelling in explaining human cognition" I don't understand what I am reading and how to make sense of it, I don't know were to start and how to get going with it, I really don't like cognition :-(

    I don't know anything about the subject I'm afraid, so can only offer general advice.

    If you're feeling swamped, I find it helpful to:
    a) Start with what you do know
    b) Get that organised

    I'm going to imagine there are some key areas of cognition that computer modelling is used for and some key methods of doing that modelling. Get them, write them down as headings and organise the bits you do understand under them. Then pick one and read about it - rather than the whole topic. Obviously, some bits will cross over.

    As you read more, make notes and continue to organise under your headings, you'll make subheadings (pro's, cons, evidence base etc.) and the essay will start to form.

    No essay encompasses everything, so if an area is totally baffling you, just ignored it - unless it is integral to the topic!

    No idea if that will help or not... Good luck!

    Okay basically this is really over simplified, but cognitive psychology states that it's our thinking processes (our thoughts) that cause us to behave in a particular way. Therefore, cognitive psychologists often use flow charts to break down complex behaviours into small, step-by-step thought processes. As computers also use small step-by-step processes to function, cognitive psychologists often use computer modelling to test out their theories of human behaviour. So, essentially, if a cognitive psychologist comes up with a flow chart or something of how a particular behvaiour may be carried out, if they make a computer model based on that flow chart and it works, that means that the theory of how that behaviour is carried out is true. If the computer model doesn't run then there's a flaw in the flow chart or step-by-step processing and thus humans do not think like that to carry out the behaviour.


    Ok so it's been about 5 years since I last covered computer models of human cognition (and I absolutely hate it, I find it so tedious!), but I've just had a quick look at my old notes, and some things to consider for your essay might be:

    • Basically, computer models are used to simulate cognitive processes - so the computer is given input (a way to process the information) and performs internal operations to create the behaviour (which may resemble behaviour at the systems level, cellular/molecular level etc)
    • So a simple computational change can yield major behavioural changes in two different creatures (with no difference in how the models process information, only in patterns of connectivity) (e.g. Braitenberg, 1984)
    • The architecture of computer models resembles (at least on the surface) the nervous system (e.g. processing is distributed across many units; the contribution of any one particular unit may be small in relation to the model's total output; computations are simulated to occur in parallel to each other)
    • These models can then lead to testable predictions (e.g. have a look at Desmond & Moore (1991), which confirmed prediction of a model). So basically, computer simulations can be a useful way to develop theory, which can then aid scientists/ psychologists in designing experiments, making predictions, testing theories and interpreting results.

    Limitations of computer models, however, can be:
    - Over-simplification of how the nervous system is modelled, which means they are limited in scope. E.g. it's not always possible to confirm whether they respond to single neurons or groups or neurons
    - ‘Catastrophic interference’ – loss of information when new material is presented
    - Most computer models are restricted to quite narrow problems (e.g. the Stroop effect) – so often are less useful in actually generating new predictions

    Hope that helps.
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