While HCI (Human-Computer Interaction) is unarguably multi-disciplinary in its roots, cognitive psychology is a field that has had prominent contribution to its development. From cognitive psychology, HCI has assumed its theory-based research on experimental methods in laboratory settings, as well as research methodology on information processing by humans and computers (Hurtienne, 2009). This type of interconnectedness between cognitive psychology and HCI can be illustrated through the exploration of specific theories and practices, as well as the evolution within each field. For example, cognitive work analysis (CWA) is a common approach used in HCI, and it is generally used to discover and design effective user-interfaces. Though CWA is characterized as a systems-based approach, its principles use psychological theory; as it considers the behavior, cognition, and perceptual properties of human actors on given systems (Hurtienne, 2009). For instance, when looking at behavior and perception, prior HCI research has used CWA to better understand behaviors of characterized types of workers, specifically predicting behavior in given circumstances based on skills-rules-knowledge-taxonomy (Effken et al., 2001). In terms of exploiting perception, prior HCI research has used CWA methodology to examine human pattern-finding mechanisms in order to better understand how users interpret patterns of data on design displays in clinical settings (Effken et al., 2000; Pinsky, 1998). The above examples provide ample evidence for the connectedness of cognitive psychology and HCI. As illustrated, cognitive psychology has influenced the development of HCI, and while we cannot logically say the same conversely, given that HCI as a field was introduced after cognitive psychology, we can still connect the two in a similar manner. By looking at the development of cognitive psychology, we will see how important elements of today’s HCI, mainly computer systems, has had an impact on what we consider to be modern cognitive psychology.
Traditionally, cognitive psychology focused on intellectual function, knowledge, and general characteristics of mental events (Reisberg and Snavely, 2010). This type of methodology served only to explore conscious mental events, and while in modern day we know that there is much more to cognition that lie beneath consciousness, there was a more apparent issue with this methodology. Mainly, this approach only allowed for introspective thoughts and opinion-based claims (Reisberg and Snavely, 2010). Thus, in an effort to objectively study cognition, a new wave of cognitive study known as behaviorism was introduced. Behaviorism focused on direct observation of behavior rather than mentalistic notions and introspection (Reisberg and Snavely, 2010). While this approach appeared promising at the time, again a problem arose – while behaviorism allowed for objective study, it focused on the outputs of stimulus responses, rather than the understanding of the stimulus itself, the latter ultimately serving a more crucial means of information in terms of predicting responses. The next stage of cognitive psychology was truly revolutionary; this included a revamped methodology utilizing cause and effect and Kant’s method – ‘inferences to best explanation’. Interestingly though, it was the development of computers in the 1950’s that truly paved the way for modern cognitive psychology. Computers provided psychologists with a metaphorical language to describe information-processing, a central component of modern cognitive psychology. This is because computers are similar to the human mind in that they are able to store and later retrieve information. Additionally, they appeared to perform tasks that involved decision-making and problem solving. Psychology therefore began to explore the possibility that the mind functioned in a way similar to that of computers. Ultimately, this computer metaphor allowed psychologist to run the Kantian logic: given a set of data, one could propose a particular sequence of info-processing events, as the hypothesized source of those data (Reisberg and Snavely, 2010). Above describes the way in which computers, a central component of HCI, affected the evolution of modern cognitive psychology. Together, the descriptions above description illustrate the intricate ways in which cognitive psychology and HCI are not only currently connected, but also how they influenced each other throughout their respective development.
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