While explorations of human cognition can traced back to Aristotle (Hothersall, 1984; Zhong-Lin & Dosher, 2007), the works of Wundt, Cattell, and James can be credited with the beginnings of the cognitive approach to psychological inquiries (Boring, 1950; Zhong-Lin & Dosher, 2007). In the 1950s, when researchers began to develop theories of mind based on computational procedures and complex representations, the Cognitive Revolution began (Miller, 1956; Broadbent, 1958; Chomsky, 1959; Newell, Shaw, & Simon, 1958; Willingham, 2007; Zhong-Lin & Dosher, 2007). Cognitive psychology, as a scientific discipline, is influenced by philosophy, computer science, and neuroscience, among many other disciplines including biology and linguistics (Willingham, 2007; Zhong-Lin & Dosher, 2007). However, unlike many other psychological perspectives, cognitive psychology has built a reputation based on experimentation and the scientific method (Willingham, 2007). To understand cognitive psychology and assumptions, one must be aware of the key milestones that led to its development and the role behaviorism plays in testing the theories in cognitive psychology.
Before the Cognitive Revolution, behaviorism dominated American psychology. Behaviorism, which is the “study of laws relating observable behavior to objective, observable stimulus conditions without any recourse to internal mental processes” (Watson, 1913; Boring, 1950; Skinner, 1950; Zhong-Lin & Dosher, 2007, para. 3). The success of behaviorism was due to its emphasis on behavior being observable and its goal to simplify complex subject matter by breaking it down to its most basic units. The rise of cognitive psychology is largely due to behaviorisms failure to discuss and account for internal mental processes, such as grammar and language, strategies, complex learning, and memory (Willingham, 2007). It was these insufficiencies, fundamental to cognitive psychology, which led to behaviorism's undoings and the Cognitive Revolution (Zhong-Lin & Dosher, 2007).
A powerful influence in the beginning of cognitive psychology was the metaphor comparing the human mind to a computer. However, the method of using metaphors to explain the human mind is not a modern occurrence. Descartes proposed a hydraulic system of nerve function and in the 19th century, researches compared the mind to a telephone switchboard. The similarities between the human mind and the computer prompted new thinking for the study of the mind. This metaphor was so influential that it became known as the information processing model. The information processing model operates under the assumptions that humans are processors of information, which support human thought and behavior; that representations of objects or events and processes that operate on these representations underlie information processing; and that information processing typically occurs within largely isolated modules, which are organized in stages and processing. Although the metaphor did not provide a complete explanation for all human internal processes, it did promote further thinking. Scientists were cognizant that they needed support for the concept that abstract constructs could be advantageous to science. The support they needed came from two fields, computer science and neuroscience (Willingham, 2007).
With artificial intelligence, which is the pursuit of intelligent behavior by a computer, scientists were able to use sophisticated machines that were capable of logic and strategy to support theories of abstract constructs. As you may recall, behaviorists ignored unobservable phenomena, and using a computer to measure unobservable behavior was considered to be unscientific. Allen Newell and Herb Simon (1956) developed a program in the mid-1950s that proved theorems in formal logic. There were three critical things about this program and what it represented. One, up until that time, artificial