Foundations Of Cognitive Science

Discrete Processing

A model using discrete processing requires that information is passed from one stage to another only after the processing in the first stage is complete. Therefore, the processing time required in a discrete model is additive and equal to the sum of the time taken at each level of processing. The notion of discrete processing arose in the learning literature (Ratcliff, 1988) as the issue of continuous versus all-or-none aquisition of information. Continuous learning is not discrete, as defined above. However, Ratcliff points out that discrete processing has implications for modeling latencies in a much broader range of cognitive phenomena. Note that discrete processing also differs from cascade processing, which is defined elsewhere in this dictionary.


  1. Ratcliff, R. (1988). Continuous versus discrete information-processing : Modeling accumulation of partial information. Psychological Review, 95(2), 238-255.

(Revised March, 2010)