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date: 26 January 2021

Cognitive Psychology During the Cold War Era, 1955–1975locked

  • Hunter HeyckHunter HeyckThe University of Oklahoma, Department of the History of Science

Summary

The first 30 years after the end of World War II saw marked changes in the discipline of psychology: in ideas and institutions, problems and practices, funders and philosophies. These changes can be grouped together and described as a new, “high modern” style of psychological science, a new style grounded in a new model of “man.” This new model of “man” cast humans as fundamentally forward-looking prediction machines rather than as past-governed stimulus-response machines or creatures of habit, instinct, or drives. According to this view, the past still matters to our decision-making, but in a new way: it informs our expectations—the futures we imagine—rather than determining our behavior or saddling us with half-remembered traumas. From this perspective, we use mental representations of the world to generate predictions about future states of that world, especially states that are contingent upon our actions. Even more, we are finite prediction machines in an infinite world. Our mental representations of the world, therefore, must simplify it, and since we have neither perfect knowledge nor perfect cognitive abilities nor unlimited time, our fundamental state is one of uncertainty. We are problem-solvers that depend upon information to adapt, survive, and thrive, but we live in a world in which that information, and the time necessary to make sense of it, is expensive.

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