Finding the right references, part 1

By Gordon Rugg

The best questions are often short.

In a comment on a recent article here, Mosaic of Minds asked which authors I’d recommend for further reading about Likert scales. It’s a fair, sensible question, which lifts the lid on a whole boxful of issues about academic references. Many of those issues are important, but not as widely known as they should be.

This article is the first in an informal series about academic references, online search, and the ways that evidence is used in research. In this article, I’ll be looking at two concepts that provide some useful structure for understanding this general area, namely craft skills versus formalised knowledge, and back versions versus front versions. I’ll start with an overview of these concepts, and then look at the insights they give into different sources of information, including academic references.

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Connectionism and neural networks

By Gordon Rugg

There have been a lot of major changes in cognitive psychology over the last thirty-odd years. One of the biggest involves the growth of connectionist approaches, which occur at the overlap between neurophysiology and Artificial Intelligence (AI), particularly Artificial Neural Networks (ANNs).

Research in these areas has brought about a much clearer understanding of the mechanisms by which the brain operates. Many of those mechanisms are profoundly counter-intuitive, and tend to be either misunderstood or completely ignored by novices, which is why I’m writing about them now, in an attempt to clarify some key points.

There are plenty of readily available texts describing how connectionist approaches work, usually involving graph theory diagrams showing weighted connections. In my experience, novices tend to find these explanations hard to follow, so in this article, I’ll use a simple but fairly solid analogy to show the underlying principles of connectionism, and of how the brain can handle tasks without that handling being located at any single point in the brain.

bannerOriginal images from Pinterest and from Wikipedia; details at the end of the article.

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Schema theory, scripts, and mental templates: An introduction

By Gordon Rugg

Why should anyone care about schema theory? Well, among other things, it’s at the heart of how society functions, and if you make good use of it, you can become rich, famous and socially successful. That’s a persuasive pair of reasons. This article describes the core concepts in schema theory, discusses some examples of how it gives powerful insights, and relates it to various concepts that complement it.

First, some background. Schema theory was introduced in the 1930s by Sir Fred Bartlett. It’s pronounced like “schemer” which is a frequent cause of confusion if people first encounter the term by hearing it rather than reading it. The core idea is that a schema is a sort of mental template that describes the key features of something. For instance, the schema for a typical car includes having four wheels, a chassis, a body, doors, seats and a steering wheel.

There’s a closely related approach known as script theory. Scripts in this context are a sub-type of schema that describe the key features of an activity – a verb as opposed to a noun. For instance, the script for a pre-arranged dinner at a French-style restaurant includes the actions of booking a table, arriving at the agreed time, being greeted by a member of staff, being shown to your table, etc. We’ll be covering script theory in a later article.

So far, this may sound tidy but not particularly powerful or interesting. When you dig deeper, though, schema theory and script theory turn out to have a lot of uses and implications that aren’t as widely known as they should be. These take us into fields as varied as designing game-changing new products, the law, and measuring novelty in film scripts, as well as the eternal question of why the general public appears collectively unable to have consistent, clear ideas about what it wants. First, we’ll work through the basic concepts.

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