Last updated: May 30, 2003

[Narrative Psychology]

 Historical Background

The Cognitive Revolution 1945-1980



Background  ||  Internet  ||  Bibliographical  ||  Theorists



Background Issues

An understanding of narrative necessarily involves some appreciation of what has been called "the Cognitive Revolution" in psychology which extended roughly from the mid-1940s through the early 1980s. This subpage deals with that revolution in thought represented by cognitive psychology and its allied disciplines. A specific subfocus here involves visual, optical, or other illusions whose study has contributed to a greater understanding of both neuropsychology and the constructive nature of mental processing.

This intellectual shift began in British and American universities in the late 1940s and early 1950s and gradually gathered force in the 1960s and 1970s. It reflected a challenge to the prevailing behaviorist model of human functioning which had dismissed the need to examine "interior" mental processes and looked for lawful relationships in operant and classical learning experiments. A broad array of disciplines contributed to the emergence of what we now call "cognitive science": psychology, linguistics, artificial intelligence (AI), anthropology, neuroscience, and philosophy were prominent in the cognitive turn (Gardner, 1985). A central metaphor adopted by cognitivists was the computer, the theoretical and practical development of which served to provide these researchers important clues and directions in understanding the human brain and its processing of information. Jerome Bruner who was present throughout the creation of much of cognitive psychology in the 1950s and 60s would argue later that adoption of the computer and information processing notions was something of a wrong or incomplete turn in understanding crucial aspects of human cognition (Bruner, 1990).

Some highlights within the discipline historically include (1) Frederick Bartlett's (1967/1932) early research on schemata in memory construction and (2) Leon Festinger's (1957) proposal that dissonance reduction serves as a primary component in cognitive functioning. Gardner's (1985) history of this period of study in psychology is particularly fascinating and compelling.

Narrative psychology would claim that the work of Miller, Galaneter, and Pribram (1960) in articulating the role of plans and final goals in their computer-based TOTE (Test-Operate-Test-Exit) model is congruent with the emphasis upon intentionality in storied explanations of behavior.


Theorists*Key Figures

Internet Resouces

Cognitive Neuroscience Encounters Psychotherapy: Lessons from Research on Attachment and the Development of Emotion, Memory and Narrative [Daniel J. Siegel, MD; March 1996] "...presented as a plenary address at the 1996 American Association of Directors of Residency Training Annual Meeting..." See Siegel (1999) for expanded version of this paper.

Illusions: Visual/Optical/Other

The constructionist character of perceptual processes is illustrated by the range of visual or optical illusions which have been gradually uncovered or devised since the beginnning of the century. Impelled by the early Gestalt movement of the 1920s and 30s to discover the rules of perceptual organization of experience, the study of visual illusions has more recently suggested important characteristics of the underlying sensory and nervous systems. Escher, of course, is the master graphics artist whose explorations in visual absurdities continue to fascinate most of his viewers.


Bibliographical Resources

Baars, B.J. (1986). The cognitive revolution in psychology. NY: The Guilford Press.

Bartlett, F. C. (1957). Thinking: An experimental and social study. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Bartlett, F. C. (1967). Remembering: A study in experimental and social psychology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. (Originally published 1932) [BF371.B26]

Bruner, J. S., Goodnow, J. J., & Austin, G. A. (1956). A study of thinking. New York: Wiley. (Reissued 1986 by Transaction Books, New Brunswick, NJ, as Citation Classic).

Festinger, L. (1957). A theory of cognitive dissonance. Evanston, IL: Row Peterson. [BF335.F4]

Gardner, H. (1985). The mind's new science: A history of the cognitive revolution. New York: Basic Books. [BF311 .G339 1985]

Greenwood, J. D. (1999). Understanding the "cognitive revolution" in psychology. Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 35, 1-22.

Hundert, E. M. (1997). Lessons from an optical illusion: On nature and nurture, knowledge and values. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Hunt, E. (1989). Cognitive science: Definition, status, and questions. Annual Review of Psychology, 40, 603-629.

Johnson, E. B. (2001). The repeated reproduction of Bartlett's Remembering. History of Psychology, 4(4), 341-366.

Mandler, G. (2002). Origins of the cognitive (r)evolution. Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 38(4), 339-353.

Miller, G.A., Galanter, E., & Pribram, K.H. (1960). Plans and the structure of behavior. NY: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Saito, A. (1996). Social origins of cognition: Bartlett, evolutionary perspective and embodied mind approach. Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior, 26, 399-421.

Siegel, D. J. (1999). The developing mind: Toward a neurobiology of interpersonal experience. New York: Guilford Press.


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Hevern, V. W. (2003, May). The Cognitive Revolution. Narrative psychology: Internet and resource guide. Retrieved [enter date] from the Le Moyne College Web site:

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