Skip to Content

Department of Cognitive Science

Cognitive psychology does not reduce to neuroscience

Lincoln J. Colling (
Macquarie Centre for Cognitive Science, Macquarie University
Reece P. Roberts (
Research Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience, Department of Psychology, University of Auckland


Contemporary scientific investigations of the mind have increasingly looked towards the brain in order to explain intelligent behavior. This is most evident with the rise of cognitive neuro-imaging. This approach has, however, been met with mixed reactions. On the one hand, classical cognitive scientists - in the computationalist-functionalist tradition - have argued that cognitive neuro-imaging does not, and cannot, answer questions about the cognitive mechanisms that are responsible for creating intelligent behavior; it is limited to questions about neural function or the neural basis of cognition. On the other hand, there are those who argue that an understanding of intelligent behavior can only be gained through study of the brain. We suggest that both views are misguided. We will present a third option: That neuroscience, properly used, can be employed in the development of cognitive theory, but that cognitive science does not reduce to neuroscience, because intelligent behavior can only be understood by studying how the brain interacts with the body and the brain-body with the environment.

Citation details for this article:

Colling, L., Roberts, R. (2010). Cognitive psychology does not reduce to neuroscience. In W. Christensen, E. Schier, and J. Sutton (Eds.), ASCS09: Proceedings of the 9th Conference of the Australasian Society for Cognitive Science (pp. 41-48). Sydney: Macquarie Centre for Cognitive Science.

DOI: 10.5096/ASCS20097
Download the PDF here


  1. Ballard, D. H., Hayhoe, M. M., Pook, P. K., & Rao, R. P. (1997). Deictic codes for the embodiment of cognition. The Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 20, 723-742.
  2. Bickle, J. (2003). Philosophy and neuroscience: A ruthlessly reductive account. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
  3. Bickle, J. (1998). Psychoneural reduction: The new wave. Cambridge Mass.: MIT Press.
  4. Bickle, J. (2008). The molecules of social recognition memory: Implications for social cognition, extended mind, and neuroethics. Consciousness and Cognition, 17, 468-474. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2008.03.015
  5. Buccino, G., Binkofski, F., Fink, G. R., Fadiga, L., Fogassi, L., Gallese, V., et al. (2001). Action observation activates premotor and parietal areas in a somatotopic manner: an fMRI study. European Journal of Neuroscience, 13(2), 400-404.
  6. Calvo-Merino, B., Glaser, D., Grezes, J., Passingham, R., & Haggard, P. (2004). Action Observation and Acquired Motor Skills: An fMRI Study with Expert Dancers. Cereb. Cortex, 15, 1243-1249. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhi007
  7. Chemero, A. (2007). Asking what’s inside the head: Neurophilosophy meets the extended mind. Minds and Machines, 17, 345-351. doi: 10.1007/s11023-007-9073-3
  8. Clark, A. (1989). Microcognition: Philosophy, cognitive science, and parallel distributed processing. Cambridge Mass.: MIT Press.
  9. Clark, A., & Chalmers, D. (1998). The extended mind. Analysis, 58, 7-19. doi: 10.1111/1467-8284.00096
  10. Colling, L. J., Thompson, W. F., & Sutton, J. (2009). Action synchronisation with biological motion. Presented at the 9th Conference of the Australasian Society for Cognitive Science, Sydney, Australia.
  11. Coltheart, M. (2004). Brain imaging, connectionism, and cognitive neuropsychology. Cognitive Neuropsychology, 21, 21-25. doi: 10.1080/02643290342000159
  12. Cowan, N. (2001). The magical number 4 in short-term memory: A reconsideration of mental storage capacity. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 24, 87-114.
  13. Dobzhansky, T. (1973). Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution. The American Biology Teacher, 35, 125-129.
  14. Flach, R., Knoblich, G., & Prinz, W. (2003). Off-line authorship effects in action perception. Brain and Cognition, 53, 503-513. doi: 10.1016/S0278-2626(03)00211-2
  15. Gibson, J. (1979). The ecological approach to visual perception. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  16. James, W. (1905). The principles of psychology (Vol. 2). New York: Henry Holt and Company.
  17. Kirsh, D., & Maglio, P. (1994). On distinguishing epistemic from pragmatic action. Cognitive Science: A Multidisciplinary Journal, 18, 513-549.
  18. Lakatos, I. (1970). Falsification and the methodology of scientific research programmes. In I. Lakatos & A. Musgrave (Eds.), Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge: Volume 4: Proceedings of the International Colloquium in the Philosophy of Science. London, 1965 (pp. 91-196). Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press.
  19. McClelland, J. L. (1985). Putting knowledge in its place: A scheme for programming parallel processing structures on the fly. Cognitive Science: A Multidisciplinary Journal, 9, 113-146.
  20. Mozer, M. C. (1983). Letter migration in word perception. Journal of Experimental Psychology. Human Perception and Performance, 9, 531-546. doi: 10.1037/0096-1523.9.4.531
  21. Newell, A., & Simon, H. A. (1997). Computer science as empirical inquiry: Symbols are search. In J. Haugeland (Ed.), Mind design II: philosophy, psychology, artificial intelligence (Revised and enlarged edition., pp. 81-110). Cambridge Mass.: MIT Press.
  22. Rizzolatti, G. (2005). The mirror neuron system and its function in humans. Anatomy and Embryology, 210, 419-421. doi: 10.1007/s00429-005-0039-z
  23. Shapiro, L. A. (2000). Multiple realizations. The Journal of Philosophy, 97, 635-654. doi: 10.2307/2678460
  24. Stevens, J., Fonlupt, P., Shiffrar, M., & Decety, J. (2000). New aspects of motion perception: selective neural encoding of apparent human movements. NeuroReport, 11(1), 109-115. doi: 10.1097/00001756-200001170-00022
  25. Thagard, P. (1986). Parallel computation and the mind-body problem. Cognitive Science: A Multidisciplinary Journal, 10, 301-318.
  26. Wilson, M., & Knoblich, G. (2005). The case for motor involvement in perceiving conspecifics. Psychological Bulletin, 131, 460-473. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.131.3.460

Further Information

Who is Visiting

Contact Details

Telephone: (02) 9850 9599
Fax : (02) 9850 6059
Email :
Web :