On the Validity of Simulating Stagewise Development by Means of PDP Networks: Application of Catastrophe Analysis and an Experimental Test of Rule‐Like Network Performance

Cognitive Science 20 (1):101-136 (1996)
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This article addresses the ability of Parallel Distributed Processing (PDP) networks to generate stagewise cognitive development in accordance with Piaget's theory of cognitive epigenesis. We carried out a replication study of the simulation experiments by McClelland (1989) and McClelland and Jenkins (1991) in which a PDP network learns to solve balance scale problems. In objective tests motivated from catastrophe theory, a mathematical theory of transitions in epigenetical systems, no evidence for stage transitions in network performance was found. It is concluded that PDP networks lack the ability to recover the positive outcomes of analogous catastrophe analyses of real cognitive developmental data. In an attempt to further characterize the learning behaviour of PDP networks, we carried out a second simulation study using the discrimination‐shift paradigm. The results thus obtained indicate that PDP learning is compatible with the learning of stimulus‐response relationships, not with the acquisition of mediating rules such as conceived in (neo‐)Piagetian theory. In closing, we speculate about the feasibility of simulating stagewise development with alternative network architectures.



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