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Hardcover | $45.00 Short | £31.95 | ISBN: 9780262028073 | 352 pp. | 6 x 9 in | 46 b&w illus.| December 2014

Categorizing Cognition

Toward Conceptual Coherence in the Foundations of Psychology


All sciences need ways to classify the phenomena they investigate; chemistry has the periodic table and biology a taxonomic system for classifying life forms. These classification schemes depend on conceptual coherence, demonstrated correspondences across paradigms. This conceptual coherence has proved elusive in psychology, although recent advances have brought the field to the point at which it is possible to define the type of classificatory system needed. This book proposes a categorization of cognition based on core properties of constituent processes, recognizing correspondences between cognitive processes with similar underlying structure but different surface properties. These correspondences are verified mathematically and shown not to be merely coincidental.

The proposed formulation leads to general principles that transcend domains and paradigms and facilitate the interpretation of empirical findings. It covers human and nonhuman cognition and human cognition in all age ranges. Just as the periodic table classifies elements and not compounds, this system classifies relatively basic versions of cognitive tasks but allows for complexity. The book shows that a more integrated, coherent account of cognition would have many benefits. It would reduce the conceptual fragmentation of psychology; offer defined criteria by which to categorize new empirical results; and lead to fruitful hypotheses for the acquisition of higher cognition.

About the Authors

Graeme Halford is Emeritus Professor in the School of Psychology at the University of Queensland, and Adjunct Professor of Psychology at Griffith University.

William Wilson is Associate Professor in the School of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of New South Wales.

Glenda Andrews is Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Griffith University, Queensland.

Steven Phillips is Chief Scientist at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, Japan.


Categorizing Cognition provides an integrative treatment of complexity from the perspective of cognitive science. The volume lays out theoretical principles for understanding variations in complexity across tasks, highlighting implications for cognitive development, adult human cognition, cognitive neuroscience, comparative psychology, and computational models. For all those interested in understanding complexity (and how a human mind can try to cope with it), this book will be an invaluable resource.”
Keith Holyoak, Distinguished Professor of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles; coauthor of Mental Leaps: Analogy in Creative Thought; coeditor of The Oxford Handbook of Thinking and Reasoning

“Educators urgently need to build on sound, substantial efforts such as this one if they are serious about supporting development of cross-domain intellectual skills. Their long-standing reliance on weakly specified constructs like critical thinking or Bloom's taxonomy can’t do the job.”
Deanna Kuhn, Professor of Psychology and Education, Teachers College, Columbia University

“Graeme Halford and his colleagues have written an extraordinary book that draws on several decades of first-rate theorizing and research to provide a comprehensive account of the mechanisms underlying higher cognitive functions and their development—one that recognizes the fundamental importance of cognitive complexity to an understanding of the human mind. This book is a must-read for any serious student of cognition.”
Philip David Zelazo, Nancy M. and John E. Lindahl Professor, Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota