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Why should we develop models of cognitive processes? How does the connectionist approach
Prior to the publication of the keynote works of Donald Hebb (1949), the pioneers of the
scientific field of psychology were often more inclined to depend on symbolic modeling, which involved
the representation of different mental objects through the use variables and rules, and the traditional view
on memory was that new memories were formed via the growth of new sets of cells within the nervous
system. However, Hebb proposed the Hebb rule based on Santiago Ramon y Cajals theory of the
neuron doctrine (Shepherd, 1991), whereby learning occurred as a result of changes in the strengths of
connections between nerve cells, and that these changes were perhaps caused by simultaneous activity
across the synapses in the brain. Models of cognitive processing were subsequently devised based on
his theories to allow researchers to test and evaluate the validity of aforementioned theories. Hence, this
illustrates that cognitive models are essential to extending the depth of our current understanding of the
Cognitive models typically act as a simplified or in some cases, close to exact replica of human
cognitive processes that enable researchers to predict and comprehend certain outcomes, and allow for
valuable insight into individual cognitive phenomenons and the interactions between these phenomena.
Cognitive models also play an important role in the prediction of possible behaviours that would
manifest when faced with specific tasks or tools, and to predict the subsequent consequences of these
outcomes (Blomberg, 2011). Models are able to reinstate the legitimacy of the tested sets of principles
and mechanisms and reaffirm whether or not they are able to account for the data obtained (Smith &
Kosslyn, 2007). In the past, cognitive models have often proven useful in helping scientists understand
the mechanics of human intelligence (Sternberg, 1997) and even provide information on the deficits in
cognitive processing following specific brain damage (Caramazza, 1984, 1986). Connectionist models
in particular may be of use in enriching the field of neuroscience by enhancing the current information
known to the scientific community with regards to the learning algorithms governing changes to
connections and the structured organisation of neural pathways and networks (Munakata, 2003).
Computational simulations have even helped explain the findings from neuroscience in concerning the
hippocampal region, including its anatomy and physiology (Squire, Shimamura & Amaral, 1989).
With regards to subject of connectionist models, they can best be defined as a set of models
aimed at studying the mechanisms behind information processing and learning, and how it can occur
through the fluctuating strengths of the connections between the mental representations of pieces of
information and behavioural responses. Connectionist models are also known as neuralnetwork
models, so named because of their evaluation of the essential workings of the brain (Vogels et al.,
2005). These models depend on sets of interconnected units which represent the inputoutput processes
a neuron, or group of neurons performs. Each of these units is intended to match up to a neuron or a
small group of neurons. Connectionism aims to observe if these cognitive models are able to perform the
working that we feel certain the brain is capable of performing. Connectionism also works to the ends of
explaining certain results that may have been obtained but do not make particular sense at the time to
the researcher, and may serve to fill in the current gaps in our knowledge of the human brain, for
example the causes and processes behind learning disabilities, as well as come up with solutions to help
individuals who suffer from such conditions. Models of cognitive processes allow a richer understanding
of the brain and its functions and present a solution to age old problems within scientific theories,
particularly in the field of information processing, which deals with the conversion of latent information to
In contrast with traditional cognitive models such as process models and symbolic models,
connectionist models often deal with parallel processing and even distributed parallel processing,
allowing for the processing in the form of interaction between diversely varied sources of knowledge. In
process models, the typical assumption is the processing occurs in a series, i.e. it takes place in steps
with the steps taking place one at a time, as opposed to distributed parallel processing, where the
mental representations are a pattern of weights rather than a single weight, node or connection (Smith &
Kosslyn, 2007). In connectionist models, a network of units is interconnected between several different
layers, forming a sort of neural net. This allows for a more robust network that is resistant to noise and
also undergo a gradual degradation in case of damage or overloading, instead of a complete
malfunction. The net is still able to function under such circumstances, although its performance may not
be as efficient as it would be otherwise. These neural nets also hold an advantage over process models
in the sense that they are able to learn and adapt, using training techniques to allow the network to
identify familiar patterns and administer a stronger version of the input as a response, and dampen said
responses when faced with unfamiliar patterns. It takes into consideration the weights that are originally
set out randomly, and automatically resets the weights in such a way that information coming in will
Connectionist networks function similarly to brains as they are loosely based on brain function.
In these neural networks, control is distributed throughout the network, much like within a human or
animal brain. The computation of information and data is managed by profoundly interconnected units of
simple processors with continuously and repeatedly update the basis of the weighted inputs, and the
memories that are gained are distributed throughout the network. With all these in mind, connectionist
models are able to enable scientists to comprehend the difference between a neural code and a mental
representation. Further study would thus lead to the understanding of the whys and hows of the
connections between inputs and the outputs they produce, and in that sense a greater, richer and more
Blomberg, O. (2011). Concepts of cognition for cognitive engineering. The international journal of
Caramazza, A. (1984). The logic of neuropsychological research and the problem of patient
Caramazza, A. (1986). On drawing inferences about the structure of normal cognitive systems from the
analysis of patterns on impaired performance: The case for singlepatient studies. Brain and
McGonigle, D., & Mastrian, K. (2011). Introduction to information, information science, and
Munakata, Y. L. (2003). Connectionist models of development. Developmental Science, 6(4),
Squire, L.R., Shimamura, A.P., & Amaral, D.G. (1989). Memory and the hippocampus. In J.H. Byrne
& W.O. Berry (Eds.), Neural models of plasticity: Experimental and theoretical
Sternberg, R. J. (1997). A Triarchic View of Giftedness: Theory and Practice. In N. Coleangelo & G.
Vogels, T.P., Rajan, K., & Abbott, L.E. (2005). Neural network dynamics. Annual Review of