Cognition and Connectionist Models

What is Cognition?

Cognition refers to the act of knowing and cognitive processes include processes like thinking, memory, perception, intelligence etc. that enables us to acquire knowledge, arrive at decisions and solve problems.

Researchers from a variety of disciplines have tried to study cognition and connectionist is one of them. Its name is derived from models depicting cognition as a network of connections of people (usually numerous) processing units. Because these units are sometimes compared to neurons, the cells that transmit electrical impulses, connectionist models are sometimes called "neural networks". 

Connectionist Model

Each unit is connected to other units in a large network. Each unit has some level of activation at any particular moment in time. Connections between two units have weights which can be positive or negative. A positively weighted connection will cause one unit to excite or raise the level of activation of other units to which it is connected and vice versa. This approach is also called parallel distributed processing as it is assumed that cognitive processes occur in parallel i.e. many at the same time. 

The fundamental promise of connectionism is that individual neurons do not transmit large amount of symbolic information. Instead they compute by being appropriately connected to large no of similar units. Yet another major approach to the study of cognition called as the ecological approach comes from psychologist and anthropologist, who share, a set of beliefs opposite in many ways to those held by investigators in connectionism and constructivist traditions. 

Ecological approach believes that cognition does not occur in isolation from large cultural contexts and all cognitive activities are shaped by culture and context in which they occur. There has been the influence of both Gestalt and Functionalist schools on ecological approach. Gestalt psychologist’s emphasis on context surrounding the experience was compatible with the ecological approach whereas Functionalist focus on purpose served by cognitive processes was certainly an ecological question. 

Cognition by Gibson

One prominent torch bearer of ecological approach in cognition has been Gibson. He rejected the idea of indirect perception in favor of ecological realism. His idea of direct perception involves the concept of ecological affordances. The foundation for perception is ambient, ecologically available information as opposed to peripheral or internal sensations. Gibson's theory of perception is information based rather than sensation based and to that extent an analysis of the environment (in terms of the affordances, is central to the ecological approach to perception and cognition. Gibson increased his focus on the environment through development of theory of affordances the real perceivable opportunities for action in the environment, that are specified by ecological information.

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