Tag Archives: debunking

The Cognitive Revolution (Myths, Part 2)

Christian JarrettPreviously on AHP: Chris Green critiqued an essay by Christian Jarrett (pictured right), published as a journalistic feature in the latest issue of The Psychologist, 21(9). In this essay, Jarrett outlines — and purports to debunk — several myths in the history of psychology.

Among the examinations of apocrypha surrounding Kitty Genovese and Little Albert is a question regarding the very existence of a Cognitive Revolution in psychology. Green, in response, argues that this makes a different kind of claim than do Jarrett’s other efforts:

There is all manner of debate over what the precise character of the cognitive revolution was. Some have even argued that the continuities with behaviorism are so great that it cannot be considered to be a scientific “revolution” at all. But this kind of historiographic debate is not at all the same project as excavating indisputable facts that have become distorted over the decades with retelling. It is simply the case that many of the details of the story commonly told about the Kitty Genovese case are not true. It is simply the case that Little Albert was conditioned to be afraid of a rat rather than a rabbit. This is not the case with debate over the cognitive revolution, which is a very complicated social and scientific movement that took place over a period of decades (Green, 2008, at AHP here).

Green then goes a step further in his criticism. And herein lies the lesson:

What we have here, I fear, is a case of revisionist history attempting to deflect criticism by masquerading as a case of factual “debunking” (Green, 2008, contd).

The significance of this sentence is to be found in the distinction between the good kind of “revision through reexamination” (debunking) and the bad kind of “revision through oversimplification, denial, or distortion” (negationist revisionism). This distinction is sufficiently important that we will examine it in greater detail below.

Caveat: What follows is my opinion, not an attempt to explain “what Green really meant.” (Criticism is welcome; please feel free to leave comments below.) Continue reading The Cognitive Revolution (Myths, Part 2)