Biological and Cognitive Psychology Presentation

Slide 1 Notes

This presentation is concerned with the development of the cognitive movement within psychology and its apparent precursors and predications. The biological view of psychology is considered only as an obvious, concurrent development within the framework of cognitive psychology. Many of the advances in the understanding of the biological mechanisms of cognition had an immense impact of the cognitive movement.

Slide 2 Notes

The presentation begins with an introduction to the interrelatedness of the biological and cognitive perspectives of psychology, epitomized through choice points and the Stroop Effect. Then the biological perspective of psychology is considered more in depth within the context of the mind/body problem. After the stage has been set through the introduction and the section on the biological perspective, the cognitive perspective of psychology can be assessed. One of the main interests within the cognitive movement has been the understanding of memory and the part it plays in behavior. To that end, the section on cognitive psychology entails a very popular model of memory as an example. Next, the research and systems of Karl Lashley and Donald Hebb, teacher and student respectively, are addressed in detail. Once both psychologist’s research have been explained there is a section comparing and contrasting their studies of human behavior. Lastly, there is a conclusion bringing together the research of Lashley and Hebb within the context of the cognitive perspective of psychology. 

Slide 3 Notes

During the heyday of the behaviorist movement most experimental psychologists centered their research on choice points (whether the rat was going to turn left or right at an intersection), rather than the cognitive processes that underlie the decision. However, since the rise of behaviorism was a distinctly American ordeal some European psychologist were intensely studying cognition, even while behaviorism was in vogue in America. Another example of the type of cognitive research that was carried out during the reign of behaviorism and eventually led to the cognitive movement is the Stroop Effect. This set of research sought to understand the mental organization of colors and words. Furthermore, theories on the relationship between the biological functioning of the human brain and the neurological reasoning power of the human mind were abounded in the late nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries. This paper will examine the collaboration between Karl Lashley and Donald O. Hebb, two researchers who began working together in 1934 at the University of Chicago and later developed their neurological-psychological theories at Harvard.

Slide 4 Notes

During the reign of the cognitive perspective in psychology the computer was introduced as a new means for World War II. The computer being a device which takes information in, processes it, and then produces some sort of turnout became a similarity which scientists modeled between the computer and the brain (Goodwin, 2005). By the 1960’s it was normality for the brain to be referenced in computer terminology and it’s models characterized as computer flowcharts. In 1968 Atkinson and Shiffrin developed the first introduction to that of memory, which is well known today and shown above. Cognitive psychologists freely used computer jargon as they explained each feature of the function of memory. The flow chart distinguishes the difference between a human’s short-term and long-term memory showing that human’s do not simply memorize things but rather transfer information from the short-term to the long-term compartments. It also explains that human’s retrieve information that which is stored in the long-term section. In relation to behavior, Noam Chomsky argued against B.F. Skinner’s views being that language is that of operant conditioning. Chomsky explained that language development occurs too rapidly for any operant conditioning to take place. His beliefs entailed that language is simply too complex to put it in such simple behaviorist terms. Due to his works a set of rules were established labeled as a grammar. Grammar explains that the language we use cannot be formed from simple learning but rather from systematic application. Chomsky further believed that this aspect of grammar clearly defined humans separate from other species, hence cognition is that which is, ”…known, as through perception, reasoning, or intuition…” (Cognition, 2006, para. 2).

Slide 5 Notes

While cognitive psychology was booming and leaking into other areas, such as social cognition, biological perspectives were being formed. Four main areas that are highly viewed is neuroscience, the study of the brain in relation to behavior; social psychology, the study of behavior from social influences; personality psychology, the study of various personality traits; and, developmental psychology, the study of how behavior changes as we get older. However, the brain in relation to behavior is essential in terms of biological psychology. Physiological psychologists have given up on answering the long drawn out question of the mind-body problem, but is now focusing on the affiliation between physical and psyche events by examining the activity of the nervous system and brain. Furthermore, how these functions correlate to experience and behavior. Karl Lashley and Pierre Flourens both agreed that the brain acts like a coordinated system rather than an arrangement with various functions. Skinner also rejected that of physiological psychology and its relation to behavior (Goodwin, 2005).

Slide 6 Notes

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Lashley was one of the few to propose that from a psychological perspective behaviors were the result of the brain, “…operating as an integrated system rather than a number of separate reactions causing one action” (Goodwin, 2005, p. 410). He firmly believed that the brain functioned together as a whole unit. It is due to this that Lashley was recognized for depending more on physiology to explain behavior. Unfortunately, his research efforts worked against him. In the end, his documentation actually led many behaviorists to believe that they could then proceed without considering the factor of psychology whatsoever. Additionally, Lashley used lesions of the brain, such as the one illustrated above, on rats in order to determine to what extent behavior is localized in the brain. As with Plato and Aristotle, Freud and Jung, and James Mills and John Stuart Mills, one of Lashley’s students was destined to offer an alternative view…  

Slide 7 Notes

Hebb was actually a student of Lashley at one time. However, during his career he came to the conclusion that it was an injustice to the study of the human brain and the field of psychology to attempt to separate psychology and physiology. This conclusion persuaded Hebb to set out and show how the two were intertwined.  This effort led Hebb to his theory of “cell assembly. Cell assembly could be defined as, “…the basic unit, referring to a set of neurons that become associated with each other because they have been activated together by repeated sensory experiences”(Goodwin, 2005, p. 423). Hebb also proposed a solution for upper level thinking by combining many cell assemblies into, what he called, phase sequences. Through phase sequences Hebb was able to account for complicated behavior processes in associationist terms.

Slide 8 Notes

Cell assemblies are defined as the basic unit, referring to a set of neurons that become associated with each other because they have been activated together by repeated sensory experiences. Closely related is the Phase Sequence which is a more organized system involving several cell assemblies. Both were ideas stemming from Hebb. The Serial Order problem was a concern of Lashley’s. It was related to the association theory, however, Lashley could not convince himself that actions depended upon a series or “chain reaction” of events. Events such as moving fingers happened too quickly for the brain to perform such complex reactions according to associations. Thus instead of relying on an “associative chain” concept, he believed that, “…the brain was a system that exercised organizational control over complex patterns of behavior.” (Goodwin, 2005, p. 410). Comparatively, both men contributed largely to the study of behavior in the field of psychology. Their beliefs were similar in that they both related physiology to the brain. Lashley’s disregard for the physiology of how the brain conveyed its messages led to other’s following his misdirected path. Ultimately, Hebb “rekindled” that area in his grouping the two areas together in his studies.

Slide 9 Notes

In conclusion, the biggest contribution that these two men made was the study of behavior in psychology. People have found there to be many similarities and differences when it came to biological and cognitive psychology. Throughout this presentation it showed the contributions that Lashley and Hebb made in the field of psychology. They where able to figure out how the brain works and why some people did behaved the way they did. These two men had their own opinions and experiments that they did the prove the facts about the brain. Furthermore, their research in the area of human cognition could one day lead to a computer model (artificial intelligence) of human thought.


Cognition. (2006).  Retrieved February 14, 2009, from Web site:

Goodwin, C. J. (2005). A history of modern psychology (2nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Jeeves, M. (2000). The impact of psychological researchon Christian beliefs and practices – a source of challenges, insights and reminders: Advances in understanding memory. Retrieved February 12, 2009, from St. Edmunds University Web site:


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