Putting the psychology back into psychological models: Mechanistic versus rational approaches
Memory & Cognition, Volume 36, Number 6, September 2008 , pp. 1057-1065(9)
Yasuaki Sakamoto, Matt Jones, Bradley C. Love
Two basic approaches to explaining the nature of the mind are the rational and the mechanistic approaches. Rational analyses attempt to characterize the environment and the behavioral outcomes that humans seek to optimize, whereas mechanistic models attempt to simulate human behavior using processes and representations analogous to those used by humans. We compared these approaches with regard to their accounts of how humans learn the variability of categories. The mechanistic model departs in subtle ways from rational principles. In particular, the mechanistic model incrementally updates its estimates of category means and variances through error-driven learning, based on discrepancies between new category members and the current representation of each category. The model yields a prediction, which we verify, regarding the effects of order manipulations that the rational approach does not anticipate. Although both rational and mechanistic models can successfully postdict known findings, we suggest that psychological advances are driven primarily by consideration of process and representation and that rational accounts trail these breakthroughs.