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Department of Cognitive Science

Levels of explanation in cognitive science

Max Coltheart (
Macquarie Centre for Cognitive Science, Macquarie University, Sydney


Cognitive science is the interdisciplinary study of the mind. Two of its constituent disciplines are cognitive psychology and cognitive neuroscience. Each of these can provide partial explanations of how people are able to perform certain tasks. The explanations from cognitive psychology are hypotheses about mental-information-processing programs. The explanations from cognitive neuroscience are hypotheses about the nature of the neural hardware on which these programs run. At present it is quite unclear whether findings in either of these domains can constrain hypotheses in the other; I argue that there are so far no examples of this actually having happened.

Citation details for this article:

Coltheart, M. (2010). Levels of explanation in cognitive science. In W. Christensen, E. Schier, and J. Sutton (Eds.), ASCS09: Proceedings of the 9th Conference of the Australasian Society for Cognitive Science (pp. 57-60). Sydney: Macquarie Centre for Cognitive Science.

DOI: 10.5096/ASCS20099
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