Foundations Of Cognitive Science

Computer Simulation

A computer simulation is one of the types of models commonly used in psychology or cognitive science (Dawson, 2004). With the computer revolution, many theorists believed not only that cognition was information processing, but also that the most appropriate way of bringing theories of information processing to life was in terms of designing effective procedures (Johnson-Laird, 1993). For instance, Simon and Newell (1958) predicted that “within ten years most theories in psychology will take the form of computer programs.” Like a mathematical model, a computer simulation attempts to capture existing empirical regularities, and also to provide novel insights that fuel future experiments. However, one key difference between these two types of models is that computer simulations usually generate the behavior of interest, while mathematical models do not (they describe it, but do not perform it (Dawson, 2004)). It has also been argued (Luce, 1989, 1995) that computer simulations have eliminated the notion of "goodness of fit" from mathematical modeling, and have as a result caused a substantial decline in the use of mathematical models!


  1. Dawson, M. R. W. (2004). Minds And Machines : Connectionism And Psychological Modeling. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub.
  2. Johnson-Laird, P. N. (1993). Human and machine thinking. Hillsdale, NJ: L. Erlbaum Associates.
  3. Luce, R. D. (1989). Mathematical psychology and the computer revolution. In J. A. Keats, R. Taft, R. A. Heath & S. H. Lovibond (Eds.), Mathematical and Theoretical Systems (pp. 123-138). Amsterdam: North-Holland.
  4. Luce, R. D. (1995). Four tensions concerning mathematical modeling in psychology. Annual Review of Psychology, 46, 1-27.
  5. Simon, H. A., & Newell, A. (1958). Heuristic problem solving: The next advance in operations research. Operation Research, 6, 1-10.

(Added March 2010)