Long live the cognitive revolution

Essential Cognitive Psychology - Cognitive Psychology - Cognitive Psychology and its Implications - Cognitive Psychology - Cognition
November 24, 2000

Cognitive psychology has undergone something of a revolution in the past five years, with significant advances in our understanding of the neural basis of various aspects of cognition. The revolution is primarily due to the widespread use of brain-imaging techniques, and it reflects the increasing influence of cognitive neuroscience on cognitive psychology. Such findings are prominent in each of the texts reviewed here.

The new edition of John Anderson's Cognitive Psychology and its Implications reflects a relatively conservative updating of his successful advanced-level undergraduate text that is well structured and comprehensive. The updates are restricted to the addition and deletion of a handful of small sections. The inclusion of some cognitive neuroscience has not changed the emphasis of the book, and it is not clear that the modifications justify a new edition. However, the text continues to benefit from Anderson's command of the relation between cognitive psychology and computation, and remains a solid introduction to the higher-level aspects of cognition. Section and chapter summaries, plus lists of further reading and a glossary, add to the book's utility.

Michael Eysenck and Mark Keane's text shares the same target audience with Anderson. It deserves its reputation for being readable and well informed. Previous editions have been built on the tripartite foundations of (experimental) cognitive psychology, (computational) cognitive science and cognitive neuropsychology. The fourth edition sees cognitive neuroscience, in particular evidence from brain-imaging studies, join these foundations, and all chapters have been revised to incorporate relevant neuroscientific findings. The quadripartite foundation works well, and the revisions capture much of the excitement resulting from the influence of cognitive neuroscience. Features of previous editions, such as chapter summaries, reading lists and the glossary, are all retained, and this is the pick of the bunch.

The text by Douglas Medin, Brian Ross and Arthur Markman has also been revised extensively in the light of recent findings from cognitive neuroscience, which now permeate most chapters. This text continues to be authoritative and comprehensive. It is similar in content, style and approach to Eysenck and Keane, but leans slightly more towards experimental cognitive psychology and away from computational cognitive science. Organisational revisions have involved restructuring and extending the chapters on memory, and removal of the chapter on language acquisition. Psycholinguists will no doubt lament the latter, and if using this text will need to consult specialist supplementary material. The chapters on thinking, reasoning and problem-solving remain strong. This edition also includes all of the customary pedagogical features, plus boxed text highlighting enigmas, debates and applications. An extensive revised, test bank is available for instructors.

Alan Parkin attempts to fill the gap between general psychology introductions, which cannot do justice to the depth and breadth of cognitive psychology, and more specialist advanced texts, in which the average student may flounder. As such, the text is considerably shorter than others reviewed here. It is best suited to shorter intermediate-level courses, is highly readable and succeeds in providing an adequate introduction to the primary areas and theories of cognitive psychology. The introductory chapter, which outlines the historical origins of cognitive psychology as a response to difficulties with behaviourist approaches, is especially noteworthy. However, in later chapters students will find it necessary to go elsewhere for detail.

The organisation of the fifth edition of Stephen Reed's text follows that of other books reviewed here, but the coverage is less comprehensive. The sections on language and reasoning are particularly weak in comparison to Eysenck and Keane or Medin et al. Arguably this is because the text is aimed at a slightly less advanced audience. The approach is also more applied and less theoretical or computational. This may well suit many intermediate courses, but it is not appropriate for advanced-level undergraduate or early postgraduate training. This edition is motivated primarily by the addition of material relating to, for example, false memories and expertise. It comes with a study guide by Linda Buyer and an instructor's manual and set of computer demonstrations.

Richard Cooper is lecturer in psychology, Birkbeck College, University of London.

Essential Cognitive Psychology: First edition

Author - Alan J. Parkin
ISBN - 0 86377 673 6
Publisher - Psychology Press
Price - £13.95
Pages - 354

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