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Is Cognition Distributed? An Evaluation of Cognitive, Technological and Social Approaches Rebecca Long, Daniel Lyus, Kayley OFlynn and Freya Palmer.

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Presentation on theme: "Is Cognition Distributed? An Evaluation of Cognitive, Technological and Social Approaches Rebecca Long, Daniel Lyus, Kayley OFlynn and Freya Palmer."— Presentation transcript:

1 Is Cognition Distributed? An Evaluation of Cognitive, Technological and Social Approaches Rebecca Long, Daniel Lyus, Kayley OFlynn and Freya Palmer

2 The Controversy and the Case Study How can the processes of knowledge construction, evaluation and transmission be most accurately explained? Case Study: An evaluation of cognition in relation to collaborative activities and technological development

3 Introduction Historical origins Divide between traditional and sociocultural explanations Distributed Cognition Case study Collaborative learning The role of technology The verdict : Whether cognition is distributed?

4 Historical Origins of the Conflict Rationalist Piaget (1929) Innate abilities structure learning e.g. schemes Empiricist Vygotsky (1978) External social factors structure learning e.g. scaffolding TRADITIONAL V SOCIOCULTURAL

5 Traditional Cognitive Explanations Mind - fundamental to understanding cognitive processing is independent of the social cultural and material environment (Nersessian, 2005, pp.21-22) Thinking = computation Physical symbol system (Newell and Simon, 1972)

6 Traditional Cognitive Explanations beliefs and desires are information, incarnated as configurations of symbols. The symbols are physical states of bits of matter, like chips in a computer or neurons in the brain. They symbolize things in the world because they are triggered by those things via our sense organs, and because of what they do once they are triggered... Eventually the bits of matter constituting a symbol bump into bits of matter connected to the muscles, and behavior happens. (Pinker, 1997: pp ).

7 Cognition as Representation Intelligent behaviour [is] explained by appeal to neurally located representations. (Wheeler and Clark, 2005).

8 Sociocultural Explanations Individual = wrong unit of analysis Should look at: Sociocultural and material environments and motivations and interests Environment = integral and decisive Cognition occurs outside the individual in the social processes of interacting with the devices (Nersessian, 2005: pp.49).

9 Sociocultural Explanations E.g.Catching a ball: Keep your eye on the ball, and move so that the tangent to the balls path is always directly towards you. If you do this, the ball will land right in front of you, within reach. Intelligent behaviour = external processes that form information channels, but are not themselves turned into representations (Wheeler and Clark, 2005).

10 The Cartesian Nature of the Divide Traditional cognitive accounts Brain = Descartes soul Environment = Descartes body thinking is disembodied from its stimulus Sociocultural accounts Environment = Descartes soul Brain = Descartes body thinking is inseparable from the environment

11 Distributed Cognition Cognitive science often carries on as though humans had no culture, no significant variability and no history (Donald, 1991) The human is an animate organism, with a biological basis and an evolutionary and cultural history, a social animal, interacting with others and often ignored by core disciplines of cognitive science (Norman, 1981)

12 Distributed Cognition Distributed cognition is an attempt to overcome the limitations of traditional cognition by studying the complex interactions between individuals, artefacts and the environment Cole and Engestrom (1997) argue that the idea of distributed cognition is not a new one Distributed cognition studies all aspects of cognition from a cognitive, social and organisational perspective and was first discussed in this way by Hutchins (1992), it provided a new paradigm for conceptualising human work activities (Preece et al., 2002).

13 An Example The pilot, co-pilot and air traffic controller interact with each other The pilot and co-pilot interact with the instruments within the cock pit The pilot and co-pilot interact with the environment in which the plane is flying

14 Methodology Ethnography Interviews Laboratory Studies

15 CASE STUDY Using Distributed Cognition And Contextual Design To Analyse And Represent Collaborative Activities Gabriella Spinelli, Jacqueline Brodie and Mark Perry (2000)

16 Introduction The new direction of CSCW (Computer Supportive Co- Operative/Collaborative Work) has led to the development of new methods to study work practices and work-based technologies By refocusing design and using methods such as distributed cognition a more holistic approach to user centred design can be developed. By using the distributed cognition framework we can advance our understanding of collaborative work practices and interactions with technology.

17 Methodology Ethnographic Study observing two scenarios of work Locally Distributed Collaborative – over a period of 8 months using observations, interviews and digital recordings Mobile Collaborative Working practices – over a period of 6 months, observing people in remote and mobile settings and supplemented by 15 interviews to provide context

18 Observations For The Locally Distributed Groups o Locally distributed groups used paper-based artefacts as a medium for supporting collaborative activities. oThere were 3 teams within L.D category, one of which incorporated a large collaborative area into their work practice known as the project space oThe remaining 2 teams had no such available space

19 Findings o Advantages of using a project space: - the retrieval of information was facilitated. - the team is able to reach a higher degree of group awareness o Disadvantage of not having a project space: -Teams without a project space were forced to plan their group work in advance

20 Implications o These findings support the theory of distributed cognition o Organisational and social aspects of collaboration o Beneficial to adopt alternative strategies that enable collaboration

21 In terms of technology is cognition distributed? Traditional psychology Ignore the cognitive importance of artefacts Focusing on the internal cognition of the individual. Artefacts as symbols to be manipulated by individuals. Waloszek, G. (2004)

22 Distributed Cognition Emergent Distributed among actors and artefacts within the environment. Cognition as socially distributed Emphasises Collaborative learning Role of artefacts as external extensions of the cognitive process: Cognitive tools within an Extended mind (Clark & Chalmers, 1998).

23 The Extended Mind Positive potential enable us to become more efficient Negative rely on such aids (e.g. calculators or spell-check)

24 The study…two complimentary scenarios of collaborative work Locally distributed Paper based Large collaborative project space information embedded in supporting artefacts No project space plan procedures in advance Mobile technology Conscious effort to find a work surface often taking over any available mobile -phone being the most mobile

25 Mobile-phone research: Sadie Plant (2001) Changes in users thumbs stronger more dextrous increased use in other domains Changes in mating displays The cell phone changes the nature of communication, and affects identities and relationships. It affects the development of social structures and economic activities, and has a considerable bearing on its users perceptions of themselves and the world.

26 Mobile-phone research: Hewlett Packard Typing messages temporarily lowers users I.Q. by 10 points. While modern technology can have big benefits, too much can be damaging to a persons mind, not to mention their work and social life. However, maybe this is just the type/ design of existing technology!?...

27 Back to the study… Technology should support collaboration without overloading cognition Offloading onto a meaningful external resource free cognitive awareness enable more efficient sharing of information in a collaborative context

28 However… Technology often fails to utilise users connections with their environment in achieving their goals forced to plan a priori limited in mobility Existing technology dictates constraints activities need to be highly re-organised around constraints of the technology; disrupting users attention and weakening the relationship that they naturally establish with their surroundings to realise their goals

29 Paper was more efficient than technology! malleable didnt need a large amount of configuration to the environment placed fewer constraints on decision making it fitted harmoniously into users external scaffolding …current information technology fails to map onto the natural strategies that users have developed over time… However continued…

30 Therefore, the study illustrates… Artefacts, particularly mobile/ tangible technology (as discussed in lectures, e.g. 11/4/05) can affect our (cognitive) behaviour In ideal situations, users delegate the cognitive load of information they cannot deal with and the processes they cannot compute internally to the environment and to their artefacts to help them perform effectively. In reality we see users experience frustration because their artefacts are not designed to take into account their human limitations and strengths…

31 The Study illustrates… Technology can hinder cognition (or not live-up to its potential), leading to frustration and, or error when we need to offload excess information in order to concentrate on other activities When working effectively, can aid cognition greatly helping us to perform efficiently and through utilising our affordances, accounting for our limitations and complimenting our skills, artefacts can lead to a sense of empowerment (Norman, 1998). oReinforces the distributed cognition approach.

32 So… we should recognise in the design process that physical, social and cognitive dimensions are integral components of distributed cognitive activity, and that technology should augment this, rather than as at present, disrupting it. After all we shape technology in this way, and in turn are shaped by it as we adapt to and utilise it. Whether we view this as external or internal (or a combination of both) to our cognitive process

33 Wider range of : technology settings users Design professionals have different mental models!? Considerations For The Future

34 Concluding Thoughts Intelligent behaviour: Neurally located representations + external processes that are not representational. Such a theory: undermines the reason for thinking that internal processes need [themselves] to be representational. (Wheeler and Clark, 2005). Thus distributed accounts are: framework[s] and analytic methodologies for examining the interactions between people and artifacts (Rodgers and Scaife, 1997).

35 References Clark, A. & Chalmers,D. (1998) The Extended Mind. Analysis, 58; 7-9 Cole, M. & Engestrom, Y. (1997) A Cultural-historical Approach to Distributed Cognition, In, Ed. G. Salomon. Distributed Cognition: Psychological and Educational Considerations. (1-46) Cambridge University Press Donald, M. (1991) Orignins of the Modern Mind: Three stages in the evolution of Culture and Cognition. First Harvard University Press, U.S Littlejohn, G. (2005) Texts cause more harm than dope The Metro, Friday April 22nd Nersessian, N.J. Interpretting Scientific and Engineering Practices: Integrating the Cognitive, Social and Cultural Dimensions. Chapter in Gorman, M.E., Tweney, R.D., Gooding, D.C. and Kincannon, A.P. Eds. (2005). Scientific and Technological Thinking. pp London: Erlbaum.

36 References (2) Norman, D. A. (1981) Perspectives on Cognitive Science. ABLEX publishing corporation, New Jersey Norman, D. (1998) The Invisible Computer. The MIT Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts & London, England. Piaget, J. (1929). The Child's Conception of the World, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Pinker, S. (1997). How the Mind Works. New York: Norton. Plant, S. (2001) On the mobile: the effects of mobile telephones on social and individual life [Online] Available at: [Accessed: November 2004]

37 References (3) Resnick, L.B., Levine, J. and Teasley, S. Eds. (1991). Perpectives on socially shared cognition. In Nersessian, N.J. Interpretting Scientific and Engineering Practices: Integrating the Cognitive, Social and Cultural Dimensions. Chapter in Gorman, M.E., Tweney, R.D., Gooding, D.C. and Kincannon, A.P. Eds. (2005). Scientific and Technological Thinking. pp London: Erlbaum. Rogers, Y. & Ellis, J (1994) Distributed Cognition: An Alternative Framewrok for Analysing and Explaining Collaborative Working. Journal of Information Technology, 9, Spinelli, G., Brodie, J. & Perry, M. (2000) Using Distributed Cognition and Contextual Design to Analyse and Represent Collaborative Activities [Online] Available at: [Accessed: April 2005]

38 References (4) Stanton-Fraser, D. (2005) Influences of New Technology on Psychology Research in Educational Settings (2), Controversies in Cognition lecture, Monday 11th April University of Bath. Also available online at: [Accessed: April 2005] Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in Society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Waloszek, G. (2004) Dissolving Boundaries with Distributed Cognition and xApps [Online] Available at: trib_cognition.asp [Accessed: April 2005] trib_cognition.asp Wheeler and Clark, Genic Representation: Reconciling Content and Causal Complexity. Available from: 26.html [accessed 14 th April 2005]. html

39 Further Reading Elman, J.L. (2005). Connectionist Models of Cognitive Development: Where Next? Trends In Cognitive Sciences, 9(3), Gibson J.J. (1979). The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception, Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum. Gorman, M.C. (1997). Mind in The World: Cognition and Practice in the Invention of the Telephone, Social Studies of Science, 27, Latour, B. (1987). Science in action. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Latour, B. (1999). Pandoras hope: Essays on the reality of science studies. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. McAdam, R. (2004). Knowledge Construction and Idea Generation: A Critical Quality Perspective. Technovation, 24, Rodgers, Y. and Scaife, M. (1997) Distributed Cognition. Available from: Cog/ DistCognitionpaperRogers.html [accessed 14 th April 2005]. Cog/ DistCognitionpaperRoger

40 Further Reading Woolgar, S. (1986). Science in action. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Xiaou, Y. (2005). Artefacts and Collaborative Work in Healthcare: Methodological, Theoretical and Technological Implications of the Tangible. Journal of Biomedical Informatics, 38, 26-33

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