Higher Mental Processes

Higher Mental Processes

by Robert W Proctor (Editor)


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Higher Mental Processes by Robert W Proctor

In this new book, Robert W. Proctor curates a collection of celebrated and seminal articles from the past 125 years of the American Journal of Psychology . The debut volume in the University of Illinois Press ™s Common Threads series, Higher Mental Processes reprints a suite of ten articles on processes of higher-order thinking. Proctor, current editor of the AJP , begins the volume with a special introduction that provides historical and scientific context for the contributions. Contributors: P. Baratta, M. H. Birnbaum, M. E. Bulbrook, L. S. Buyer, R. A. Carlson, S. N. F. Chant, A. A. Cleveland, T. D. Cutsforth, R. L. Dominowski, E. Galanter, P. N. Johnson-Laird, M. G. Preston, Robert W. Proctor, and J. Tagart.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780252081453
Publisher: University of Illinois Press
Publication date: 11/30/2015
Series: Common Threads Series
Pages: 200
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Robert W. Proctor is Distinguished Professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences at Purdue University and coauthor of Why Science Matters: Understanding the Methods of Psychological Research . He is the editor of the American Journal of Psychology .

Read an Excerpt

Higher Mental Processes

A Collection of Articles from the American Journal of Psychology

By Robert W. Proctor


Copyright © 2015 The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-252-09811-6




By Thomas D. Cutsforth, University of Oregon

The investigation here reported is a continuation of the work on the synaesthesia of a blind subject commenced by Wheeler in 1920 and carried on jointly since then by Wheeler and Cutsforth. The object of these studies has been to make an intensive survey of the mental content of a highly synaesthetic subject, and to compare his mental content with an asynaesthetic subject as check observer. During the earlier part of the investigation an asynaesthetic blind subject was available whose detailed introspections could be compared with the data on synaesthetic processes.

In the present investigation the author was, as before, the synaesthetic subject. In the absence of a trained and asynaesthetic blind subject as check observer, comparative data were obtained from introspections by R. H. Wheeler. The material consisted of analogies, absurdities, simple and difficult abstract problems, all of which had been selected for the purpose of initiating reasoning processes of varying length and complexity. Analogies such as "table is to furniture as dog is to?" or "city is to town as elephant is to?" were designed to initiate reasoning processes of a minimum complexity. Of a slightly more complex nature, perhaps, were the processes of reasoning in locating the absurd features of such statements as: "The road from my house to the store is down hill all the way to the store and down hill all the way back home." Among the simpler problems of a more abstract nature were the following: "If an electric fan were attached to the rear of a boat and the air current from the fan directed toward the sail, would the boat move?" "Does the water line of a boat rise or fall as the boat passes from fresh to salt water?" Finally, more difficult problems were employed, such as: "Justify this statement: 'A first cause is logically inconceivable';" "Justify the statement: 'Being is doing'."

Any problem was discarded whose solution was stereotyped for the reason that the material happened to be too familiar or too easy. The results upon which the following discussion is based were gathered from data on 25 successful problems for the synaesthetic O (A), and 20 from the check O (W). The problems were presented to the O orally, with the following instructions: "I shall present a problem to you. Solve it as rapidly as you can and then give as complete an introspective account as possible of your mental processes." The experimental work was performed under optimal laboratory conditions and with the usual precautions employed in an introspective study.

The following are typical introspective data.

Observer A. Problem: Table is to furniture as dog is to what? Response: animal. "As E said 'table' my consciousness of the word consisted first of a fan-shaped and yellowish-black cloud appearing in the center of the visual field and moving immediately upward and to the right into the periphery; and secondly, of a fragmentary visual image of a table, with one distinct corner pointing toward me. The first image was a synaesthetic consciousness of E's voice. The second image came into the visual field from the right and beneath the first image; it was colored a faint yellow, partly from the color of pressure sensation, and partly from the dull drab of the word, table. The resulting color was a light gray-brown. From this point on, the synaesthetic awareness of E's voice did not enter into the perception of the problem. Next there appeared a synaesthetic image, bright brown in color, which shaped itself in the form of bars, criss-crossed. It took its place beyond the corner of the visualized table, but within the limits of the angle formed by the two visible table-edges. This was my consciousness of the word, furniture. Between these two sets of imagery for table and for furniture there developed a triangular patch of white, frosty brightness. This meant to me the relationship 'is to.' While it is difficult to describe this latter experience, its mental content was simple. In appearance this frosty-white patch was a structural link between the imagery of table and furniture, relating them spatially at the apex and openings of an angle. For the moment my visual attention centered itself upon this angle, which shortly tended to open a little wider. These latter experiences constituted the anticipation of the meaning 'genus-species' Then, immediately beyond this angular form, appeared synaesthetic visual imagery of the word, dog — a smoky-blue bar. This changed almost at once into the greyer blue of the abstract concept, dog. With lightning-like rapidity and with no conscious purpose, the frosty-white and triangular image of an 'is to'-relationship developed just beyond the color-patch which stood for dog. This constituted an anticipation of the response. Attention lingered for a moment at the opening of this newly formed angle. No color filled this space. It was a neutral grey. My attention then returned to the first part of the analogy, present to consciousness in terms of an angular form with the color for table at the apex and for furniture at the right of the opening. The color for dog took the place of the color for table at the apex of this form. In terms of eye-movement and shift of visual regard from dog to furniture and back again, I searched for a response-word which might have had the same relation to dog as furniture had to table. My attention would also shift to a void place — neutral grey — to the left of the coloration for furniture where the response-imagery should appear. After a brief hesitation of this sort there appeared, without warning, a yellow synaesthetic image for 'animal.' This yellow patch was my response just as the word, animal, would be your response. I then became conscious of vocal-motor imagery for the first time in this experiment. I was trying to translate the yellow synaesthetic imagery into words. This vocal-motor imagery was synaesthetic. The problem for me was solved with the appearance of the yellow visual imagery for animal."

Observer A. Problem: A first cause is logically inconceivable. Response interpreted into words: Correct; a cause is always the effect of a cause. "I perceived the word, first, in terms of visual attention to the 'one'-section of my digits number form. E hesitated for an instant in reading the problem, during which time the remainder of the number form was rapidly rising in focality. Then, in response to the word, cause, there was very rapid eye-movement to the right and slightly upward, consciousness of which came to me in terms of a black streak which contained numerous internal movements resembling tiny currents of rain-water running down a window-pane. This experience meant 'cause.' The meaningfulness of this imagery lay in the rapid fashion with which the movement appeared and in the blackness. Out at the end of this movement (for, at the time, the experience meant to me 'movement' and not 'streak') there was nothing in visual attention save neutral grey. For a brief time the visual line of regard wandered over this blank area, turning back from time to time to the region where the imagery of 'first' had gone, and was just fading out. Here there appeared a faded-out, brickish-red-brown, synaesthetic image which by its color meant 'effect.' From this point on visual synaesthetic imagery began to move about rapidly. The imagery which stood for 'effect' slid over as if pushed into the position of the former imagery of 'first', whereupon this latter imagery lost its whiteness — a color which meant 'one' — and took on a faded-out brown. In this fashion the meaning, first cause, had turned into the meaning, effect. There was no attempt to utilize this imagery further. Synaesthetic imagery of 'one' together with eye-movement had meant 'first cause.' When no change came over this imagery at the outset, and eye-movement shifted to a place just below it where there appeared the change of coloration just described, the problem had been solved, implicitly. The temporal and spatial relations of this synaesthetic imagery meant 'cause is the effect of a cause.' The reddish image of 'effect' blotted out the whitish image of 'first cause.' Immediate relaxation set in, and the flow of imagery pertaining to the problem stopped."

Observer W. Problem: Justify the statement that being is doing. Response: Isn't true: cannot be justified. "Consciousness of E's voice at first focal in auditory terms, together with marked attention to and recognition of the words 'being' and 'doing.' Before attention had entirely left the auditory perception of E's voice — while auditory qualities were tapering off in consciousness — there developed a very sudden and rapid comprehension of the problem-situation. The first stage of this was a fleeting visualization of the word, being, in front of me and slightly to the left, typewritten and projected upon a blurred brown and black background. Just to the right and on the same line with the word, being, appeared the other word, doing. Momentarily there was a rapid shift of the visual line of regard from one word to the other, left to right, with attentional emphasis upon the 'ing' part of each word. This was the first stage, or a consciousness which failed to develop further just at this time, namely, that both words had to do with something dynamic. At this juncture there was a momentary tendency to relax, a motor attitude of acceptance of the solution. Apparently, I had taken my beginning recognition of the meaning, dynamic, as a solution of the problem. But this tendency to relax was suddenly interrupted. Attention returned, visually, to the words again, and with a very rapid sweep of the line of regard across the word, doing, there appeared the syncopated verbal imagery 'doing is action,' 'the real is action.' In this imagery hardly more than the word 'doing,' the 'act' of the first 'action' and the word 'real' stood out with any degree of clearness. Then completely relaxed and attention slumped. Could not progress any farther for a time. There was a developing consciousness that the problem had not been solved; could not say why; this was a motor attitude of questioning, together with a verbal repetition of the problem several times and tendencies to frown. No meanings developed. Verbal imagery seemed detached and meaningless, when suddenly I found myself visualizing the word, being, in large black and white letters in space before me, followed at once by focal auditory-verbal and visual imagery of the word 'state.' There was exceedingly rapid eye-movement from one to the other. This entire procedure was interpreted to mean 'being is static.' Then there was flashy visual imagery of the first part of the word, becoming; very rapid and syncopated vocal-motor-auditory imagery, 'becoming-action.' then implicitly meaning and later explicitly interpreted to mean, 'it is becoming which is action (not being).' Meanwhile there was a very marked growth of bodily strains, particularly about the throat and chest, a tendency to sit more erectly in the chair, followed by a return of the visual line of regard to focal, visual imagery of the word, 'doing'. This sequence implicitly meant that doing belongs with becoming. There was then a complete relation, as if the problem had been solved. Then the meaning developed: 'Isn't so.' verbally and with slight return of visual attention to the position in space occupied previously by the two words, being and doing. This was followed by a momentary tenseness with verbal imagery, 'mistook being for becoming;' whereupon there was set up a long train of very clear-cut vocal-motor-auditory processes: 'It is becoming which is action, or doing; it is not being which is action.' Meanwhile attention was turning toward the task of introspection, and the final meaning developed visually and verbally, 'to become means to do,' 'being means simply to be.' With this came a motor attitude of acceptance."

Summary of Introspective Data. For practical purposes we shall divide the process of reasoning into two developmental stages: (1) comprehension of the problem; (2) development of the solution. The second stage involves, characteristically, the application of an abstract concept to the present situation.

A's procedure consisted first of perceiving E's voice in terms of visual, synaesthetic imagery. The color, behavior and form of this imagery were invariably determined in part by the quality of E's voice and in part by outstanding letters of the words. Secondly, there very rapidly developed the meaning of the problem, likewise in terms of synaesthetic imagery, and generally with the aid of a 'reasoning form' or some schema by means of which the synaesthetic imagery took on definite spatial relationships. Thirdly, A then proceeded toward a solution by altering or modifying this schematic and synaesthetic imagery. A solution invariably consisted of fitting visual imagery of the appropriate shape and color into his schema, a process which always involved easily observed eye-movements, changes in the line of regard, and highly focal movements of imagery. These latter movements always contained a certain amount of blackness, which represented kinaesthesis.

Both in comprehending a problem and in solving it meanings accrued to the color, spatial relationships and mobility of synaesthetic imagery. As a datum of consciousness the meaningfulness of an experience was referred to the mobility of synaesthetic imagery. The development of a 'form' was an important feature in the comprehending of any problem as well as in solving it. For example, A's procedure in completing the analogy: City is to town as elephant is to what? began with the schematization of the problem in the form of an angle with its apex in his direction. Colored imagery, meaning 'city,' took its position within the apex of the angle. Another blotch of color, meaning 'town.' took its place at the opening of the angle. Between these spatialized images appeared the frosty-white color which always meant an 'is to' relationship. But no sooner had all this imagery appeared than the fact stood out, in terms of visual attention, that this arrangement of imagery did not fit the analogy. City was at the small end of the angle and town at the large end, while a city is generally larger than a town. From this point on A found it necessary to reinterpret the entire problem by rearranging his schematic imagery. The opening of the angle closed in and the apex widened out, thus reversing the situation. It was in this fashion that meanings developed in terms of image-behavior. A then constructed a second angular form in which elephant appeared at the opening of the angle. The process of searching for the final answer consisted in trying to fit some color into the apex of this angle. As usual the response did not appear in verbal terms but in patches or clouds of synaesthetic coloration. Various species of animals appeared in terms of synaesthetic imagery, localized beyond and above the position of the angular schema. The fact that none of this colored imagery migrated to the apex of the angle, and the subsequent disappearance of the entire schema, constituted a failure to solve the problem. A then found himself reattending to the schema by means of downward eye-movements. At the apex of this reconstructed angle there developed a patch of neutral grey which meant 'nothing,' and to which A responded in verbal fashion with the word 'nothing.'

The process of arriving at a conclusion in such cases consisted of a progressive course of visual, synaesthetic imagery whose spatial arrangements, coloration and movement were implicitly meaningful. That is, they functioned as meanings without a conscious recognition of the meaning. The schema acted as a core. If visual imagery distorted the schema, the solution of the problem was delayed. In other words, if a conclusion was to be reached, the problem-form must have developed and operated characteristically, smoothly, without misplacement of imagery and without conflicting movements of imagery. The use of problem-forms seemed to be a means of attenuating and mechanizing the operation of visual imagery. It provided for economy of attention and facilitated the use of abstractions. One complex situation could be associated with another with marked facility. The entire procedure of using these forms was A's substitute for the more common methods of attenuation and mechanization that are made possible by the use of verbal imagery.

A's procedure in solving the simpler problems not presented in the form of analogies was quite similar to that described above. In the boat and fan problem the conclusion that air-pressure from the fan impinging against the sail would not move the boat but would bend or break the sail appeared in the very simple visual imagery of seeing the sail bend over. The instant the sail was seen to bend, A relaxed. The Aufgabe had been fulfilled. Before the solution could be explained to another person, however, it was necessary to elaborate upon this mental content.


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Table of Contents


ROBERT W. PROCTOR, editor of The American Journal of Psychology.. Introduction,
R. A. CARLSON. The higher mental processes in The American Journal of Psychology. Vol. 125 (2012),
T. D. CUTSFORTH. Synaesthesia in the process of reasoning. Vol. 25 (1924),
P. N. JOHNSON-LAIRD AND J. TAGART. How implication is understood. Vol. 82 (1969),
S. N. F. CHANT. An objective experiment on reasoning. Vol. 45 (1933),
M. G. PRESTON AND P. BARATTA. An experimental study of the auction-value of an uncertain outcome. Vol. 61 (1948),
E. GALANTER. Utility functions for nonmonetary events. Vol. 103 (1990),
M. H. BIRNBAUM. Base rates in Bayesian inference: Signal detection analysis of the cab problem. Vol. 96 (1983),
M. E. BULBROOK. An experimental study into the existence and nature of "insight." Vol. 44 (1932),
R. L. DOMINOWSKI AND L. S. BUYER. Retention of problem solutions: The re-solution effect. Vol. 113 (2000),
A. A. CLEVELAND. The psychology of chess and of learning to play it. Vol. 18 (1907),

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