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The Newell Test for a theory of cognition

  • John R. Anderson (a1) and Christian Lebiere (a2)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 October 2003

Newell (1980; 1990) proposed that cognitive theories be developed in an effort to satisfy multiple criteria and to avoid theoretical myopia. He provided two overlapping lists of 13 criteria that the human cognitive architecture would have to satisfy in order to be functional. We have distilled these into 12 criteria: flexible behavior, real-time performance, adaptive behavior, vast knowledge base, dynamic behavior, knowledge integration, natural language, learning, development, evolution, and brain realization. There would be greater theoretical progress if we evaluated theories by a broad set of criteria such as these and attended to the weaknesses such evaluations revealed. To illustrate how theories can be evaluated we apply these criteria to both classical connectionism (McClelland & Rumelhart 1986; Rumelhart & McClelland 1986b) and the ACT-R theory (Anderson & Lebiere 1998). The strengths of classical connectionism on this test derive from its intense effort in addressing empirical phenomena in such domains as language and cognitive development. Its weaknesses derive from its failure to acknowledge a symbolic level to thought. In contrast, ACT-R includes both symbolic and subsymbolic components. The strengths of the ACT-R theory derive from its tight integration of the symbolic component with the subsymbolic component. Its weaknesses largely derive from its failure, as yet, to adequately engage in intensive analyses of issues related to certain criteria on Newell's list.

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Behavioral and Brain Sciences
  • ISSN: 0140-525X
  • EISSN: 1469-1825
  • URL: /core/journals/behavioral-and-brain-sciences
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