The parallel distributed processing approach is often called either the PDP approach or connectionism. This model differs from other three models because it does not focus on distinction between different kinds of memory. Instead, the parallel distributed processing approach argues that cognitive processes can be understood in terms of networks that link together neuron like unit. Description of the Parallel Distributed Processing Approach Human memory has remarkable ability so familiar to us that we usually take it for granted: one thing reminds us of another (Johnson-laird, 1988). PARALLEL DISTRIBUTED PROCESSING For each the two tasks below, read the set of clues and then guess as quickly as possible what thing is being described. TASK A 1. It is orange. 2. It grows below the ground. 3. It is a vegetable. 4. Rabbits characteristically like this item. Each of these clues in Task A reminded you of several possible candidates. You probably thought of the correct answer after just a couple of clues, even though the description was not complete. Notice, however, that you did not conduct a complete search of all orange objects before beginning the second search of all below-ground objects, then all vegetables, then all rabbi-endorsed items. In other words, your search for carrot was not serial, but parallel-consistent with the word parallel in parallel distributed processing. Three characteristics of the memory search • Human memory is much more flexible, active, and remarkable. Memory can still work well, even with inappropriate input. • Memory storage is content addressable; that is, we can use attributes (such as an object’s color) to locate material in memory. • Some clues are more effective than others in helping us locate material in memory.

James McClelland is one of the major developers of the PDP approach. McClelland described how our group of individuals might be stored by connections that link these people with their personal characteristics. Example

We’ll use a simpler and presumably more familiar example that features five college students. Lists these students, together with their college majors, years in school, and political orientation. NAME Joe Marti Sam Liz Roberto MAJOR Art Psychology Engineering Engineering Psychology YEAR Junior Sophomore Senior Sophomore Senior POLITICAL ORIENTATION Liberal Liberal Conservative Conservative Liberal


Jo e
Robe rto Liber al Conserva tive 1 1 2

Marti Sa m

Li z


A rt Psychol ogy



Enginee ring

Sophom ore

This figure shows how this information could be presented in network form. Notice that figure represent only fraction of the number of people, a college student is likely to know and also just a fraction of the characteristics associated with each student. According to PDP approach, each individual characteristic are

Seni or

Juni or

connected in a mutually excitatory networks. Image that you want to locate the characteristics of Roberto, you can discover that he is a psychology major, a senior, and politically liberal.

Advantages of the PDP model
• • •

It allows us to explain how human memory can help us when some information is missing. People can make a spontaneous generalization, which involves making inferences about general information that they never learned in the first place. Spontaneous generalization involves making inferences about a category (for example, the category called “engineering student”) PDP model allow us to fill in missing information about a particular person or an object; we make default assignment based on information from similar people or objects.

General Characteristics of PDP • •

A network contains basic neuron-like units, which are connected together so that a specific unit has many links to other units (hence the alternate name for the theory, connectionism). A unit may affect other units by either exciting or inhibiting them. Cognitive processes based on parallel operations, rather than serial operations. Knowledge is stored in the association of connections among the basic units. Every new event changes the strength of connections among relevant units. As a consequence, you are likely to respond differently the next time you experience a similar event. Sometimes we have partial remembering for some information, rather than complete, perfect, memory: the brain capacity to provide partial memory is called graceful degradation.

• •

The Current Status of Parallel Distributed Processing Approach • • • The PDP approach represents the most important shift in theoretical orientation in psychology. The PDP approach seems consistent with the neurological design of the brain. Many are hopeful that PDP research may provide important, links between psychology and neuroscience.

Other researchers are concerned that the PDP approach cannot account for certain memory phenomena. The models have trouble explaining the rapid forgetting of extremely well-learned information that occurs when we learn additional information. The PDP approach is much broader, and it addresses perception, language, decision making, as well as numerous aspects of memory. Each of the first three theoretical approaches- also generated tremendous enthusiasm when they were proposed but the three approaches declined in the recent decades. Still we can speculate whether the enthusiasm that this approach generated will fade or whether PDP approach will become the standard framework for analyzing human memory.

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