This chapter examines some significant contributions to the study of human error. Its primary aim is to outline the major influences upon the arguments presented later in this book, particularly in Chapters 3 to 5. But I also hope that it will convey something of the current state of cognitive theorising to those readers who are not themselves working in this field.
The first part of the chapter attempts to provide a modest historical vantage point from which to view contemporary treatments of error. It is necessarily selective because a complete account would encompass the entire history of psychological ideas. For our purposes, however, it is sufficient to consider the major influences of the past hundred years.
The second part deals mainly with the resource-limited aspects of human cognition: attention and ‘primary’ (or short-term) memory. This work has largely been carried out in the laboratory within the natural science tradition of experimental psychology. As such, the material discussed in these sections bears the characteristic hallmarks of this mode of investigation: a restricted focus upon well-defined, manipulable phenomena; limited, data-bound models and an abiding concern with resolving differences between theoretical contenders on the basis of their predictive performance.
The third part is concerned with the representation and deployment of stored knowledge and with the vast ‘community’ of specialist processors governing the more automatic aspects of perception, thought and action. Much of this work has been carried out within the more recent cognitive science tradition.
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