Foundations Of Cognitive Science

Analytic Psychology

Analytic psychology is the standard research approach in cognitive psychology and cognitive science (Braitenberg, 1984; Dawson, 2004). It is an example of applying reverse engineering to develop cognitive theory. That is, a researcher is confronted with a complete, behaving agent and must -- through observation -- infer the internal mechanisms that regulate the agent's behavior. A prototypical example of the analytic approach is functional analysis (Cummins, 1983).

Braitenberg (1984) contrasts the analytic approach with what he calls synthetic psychology. He argues that the analytic approach will usually develop theories that are more complex than required (and more complex than those that the synthetic approach will produce) because such theories usually place the responsibility for behavioral complexity within an agent, and ignore the possibility that the environment can contribute to these observations (Simon, 1969). Nonetheless, most research in cognitive science is conducted by employing the analytic approach.


  1. Braitenberg, V. (1984). Vehicles: Explorations In Synthetic Psychology. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  2. Cummins, R. (1983). The Nature Of Psychological Explanation. Cambridge, MA.: MIT Press.
  3. Dawson, M. R. W. (2004). Minds And Machines : Connectionism And Psychological Modeling. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub.
  4. Simon, H. (1969). The Sciences Of The Artificial. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

(Added November 2009)