Integrating Theories to Understand the Nature of the Human Mind
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The goal of Cognitive Science is to understand the nature of the human mind. This includes the capacities and limitations of various information processing mechanisms. In addition, however, Cognitive Science must develop theories to explain how different components of cognition interact and integrate to produce behavior. This talk will describe research in two areas that is focused on expanding the breadth and depth of integrative models of human cognition. First, research on the impact of fatigue on human cognition will be described. Fatigue is ubiquitous in modern society, and has dramatic – and sometimes catastrophic – effects on human cognition and behavior. Understanding how decreased alertness impacts the efficiency and effectiveness of cognitive processing has important theoretical and practical implications. Second, research on spatial cognition will be described. Spatial information processing is a flexible and powerful cognitive tool that is brought to bear by diverse components of cognition to improve the adaptivity and effectiveness of perception, cognition, and motor action. Although the evidence points to important interconnections between spatial processing and other components of cognitive functioning, integrative theories have rarely addressed this aspect of cognition in detail. In both cases, the research combines empirical studies with computational process modeling to identify and validate mechanisms that explain critical phenomena, and integrate into broader theories of human cognition.