Topdown Processing Theories

Top-down processing is a generic term referring to the flow of information or data in any given aspect of cognitive or perceptual theory. The term, also known as conceptually-driven processing, was introduced by the American psychologists Donald A. Norman (1935- ) and David E. Rumelhart (1942- ), and refers to information processing that originates from information that is already stored in memory, in particular, general assumptions about the material being processed, such as the case where the person forms a hypothesis on the basis of existing "schemata" and previous experience concerning what an object might be, and then uses sensory data either to dis-confirm or to affirm the hypothesis. For example, when one takes "meaning" or "familiarity" of stimuli into account when perceiving the world, it is called top-down processing because processing is based on "higher-level" information such as the meaningful context in which a stimulus is observed (cf., bottom-up processing), as well as other information that causes the observer to expect that another stimulus will be presented. The word-superiority effect (WSE) [i.e., the finding, first reported by the American psychologist James McKeen Cattell (1860-1944) in 1885, that a letter can be identified at a lower threshold and responded to more rapidly when it is part of a familiar word than if it is presented in isolation and, thus, presents a serious challenge to researchers who assert that letters must be recognized first in order to identify words] is a good example of top-down processing. The WSE is called, also, the Reicher-Wheeler effect - named after the American psychologists Gerald M. Reicher (1939- ) and Daniel D. Wheeler (1942- ). Thus, processes that originate in the brain and influence the selection, organization, or interpretation of sensory data are called "conceptually-driven," "hypothesis-driven," or top-down processing. Abstract thoughts, prior knowledge, beliefs, values, past experience, expectations, memory, motivations, cultural background, and language all influence and direct top-down processing. Another typical example of top-down processing is the phenomenon of reversal in so-called "ambiguous figures," where the figure seems involuntarily to oscillate between different percepts or interpretations (cf., the Rubin figure/illusion or face-goblet/face-vase illusion, Appendix A). Usually, both top-down and bottom-up processing interact as one attempts to perceive the environment in some comprehensive, organized, and cohesive fashion. For example, in analysis-by-synthesis theory (i.e., recognition process where hypotheses are formed and compared with input data until one of the hypotheses produces a match), both top-down and bottom-up processing are implicated. See also BOTTOM-UP PROCESSING/THEORIES; GESTALT THEORY/LAWS; INFORMATION/INFORMATION-PROCESSING THEORY; PATTERN/OBJECT RECOGNITION THEORY; PERCEPTION (I. GENERAL), THEORIES OF; PERCEPTION (II. COMPARATIVE APPRAISAL), THEORIES OF; THREE-SYSTEMS THEORY OF MOTION PERCEPTION. REFERENCES

Cattell, J. McK. (1885). Uber die zeit der erkennung und benennung von schriftzeichen, bildern, und farben. Philosophische Studien, 2, 635-650. Norman, D. A., & Rumelhart, D. E. (1975).

Explorations in cognition. San Francisco: Freeman.

TOPOGRAPHIC HYPOTHESIS/MODEL OF THE MIND. See MIND/MENTAL STATES, THEORIES OF.

TOPOLOGICAL FIELD THEORY. See

LEWIN'S FIELD THEORY; PERCEPTION (II. COMPARATIVE APPRAISAL), THEORIES OF.

TOPOLOGICAL PSYCHOLOGY. See

LEWIN'S FIELD THEORY.

TORGERSON'S LAW OF CATEGORICAL JUDGMENT. See THURSTONE'S LAW OF COMPARATIVE JUDGMENT.

TOTAL QUALITY MANAGEMENT THEORY/APPROACH. See ORGANIZATIONAL/INDUSTRIAL/SYSTEMS THEORY.

TOTAL TIME HYPOTHESIS/LAW. The

American psychologist B. Richard Bugelski (1913-1995) explored the total time hypothesis in a learning context, suggesting that total time (number of trials multiplied by trial time) to learn material in paired-associate learning tasks equals a constant. This hypothesis has occasionally been elevated to the status of a law. The total time law is the notion that the amount of learning that will occur in a given time interval is relatively constant no matter how that time is spent in rehearsing the material to be learned (cf., deJong 's law - the principle that the time taken to perform a task is an exponential function of the time spent practicing it; the power law of practice - the time taken to perform a mental task decreases as a fractional power of the number of trials; and the law of fixation - the principle that with repeated practice learned material becomes more or less permanently fixed in the mind). Bugelski's studies support the total time law where he found that the total time required to learn a list of nonsense syllables (presented in pairs as "paired associates" in which participants were asked to anticipate and say aloud the second syllable of each pair when shown the first syllable) was unaffected by the rate at which items were presented within that total time. Subsequent to Bugelski's work, many other researchers have elaborated upon, and supported, the total time hypothesis/law (cf., the lag effect as an exception to the total time hypothesis; Baddeley, 1976). The total time law has potential value for educators and teachers because it suggests that the patterns of rehearsal that a person uses when learning materials is relatively unimportant, and that an essential aspect in learning is that the individual keeps on working. Thus, it takes a certain amount of time to learn some-thing, regardless of the length of the practice period. See also LEARNING THEORIES/ LAWS. REFERENCES

Bugelski, B. R. (1962). Presentation time, total time, and mediation in paired-associate learning. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 63, 409412.

Cooper, E., & Pantle, A. (1967). The totaltime hypothesis in verbal learning. Psychological Bulletin, 68, 221-234. Bugelski, B. R. (1970). Presentation time and the total-time hypothesis: A methodological amendment. Journal of

Experimental Psychology, 84, 529530.

Baddeley, A. (1976). The psychology of memory. New York: Basic Books. Bugelski, B. R. (1979). The principles of learning and memory. New York: Praeger.

Conditional and unconditional auto-maticity: A dual-process model of effects of spatial stimulus-response correspondence. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 20, 731-750.

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