Ulric Neisser

American psychologist

Ulric Gustav Neisser (December 8, 1928 – February 17, 2012) was a German-born American cognitive psychologist, and Professor at Cornell University from 1960 to 1983 and at Emory University from 1983 to 1988.



Cognitive Psychology, 1967


Ulric Neisser. (1967). Cognitive Psychology. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

  • The term "cognition" refers to all processes by which the sensory input is transformed, reduced, elaborated, stored, recovered, and used. It is concerned with these processes even when they operate in the absence of relevant stimulation, as in images and hallucinations. Such terms as sensation, perception, imagery, retention, recall, problem-solving, and thinking, among others, refer to hypothetical stages or aspects of cognition.
    • p. 4
  • Given such a sweeping definition, it is apparent that cognition is involved in everything a human being might possibly do; that every psychological phenomenon is a cognitive phenomenon. But although cognitive psychology is concerned with all human activity rather than some fraction of it, the concern is from a particular point of view. Other viewpoints are equally legitimate and necessary. Dynamic psychology, which begins with motives rather than with sensory input, is a case in point. Instead of asking how a man's actions and experiences result from what he saw, remembered, or believed, the dynamic psychologist asks how they follow from the subject's goals, needs, or instincts.
    • p. 4.
  • The fact that the span of apprehension averages only four or five... probably results from the high rate of encoding. In a tachistoscopic experiment the subject must read the fading icon as rapidly as possible.
    • p. 42 ; As cited in: A.H.C. Van der Heijden, "Visual attention," in: Handbook of Perception and Action, Vol. 3. 1996
  • To deal with the whole visual input at once, and make discriminations based on any combination of features in the field, would require too large a brain, or too much "previous experience" to be plausible.
    • p. 87
  • Attention is not a mysterious concentration of psychic energy; it is simply an allotment of analyzing mechanisms to a limited region of the field. To pay attention to a figure is to make certain analyses of, or certain constructions in, the corresponding part of the icon.
    • p. 88-89
  • If we allow several figures to appear at once, the number of possible input configurations is so very large that a wholly parallel mechanism, giving a different output for each of them, is inconceivable.
    • p. 94
  • To cope with this difficulty [of limited capacity], even a mechanical recognition system must have some way to select portions of the incoming information for detailed analysis.
    • p. 94
  • Paying attention is not just analyzing carefully; rather, it is a constructive act... What we build has only the dimensions we have given it.
    • p. 96; As cited in: A.H.C. Van der Heijden (1996)
  • The attentive synthesis of any particular letter or figure takes an appreciable time, of the order of 100ms...If a whole row of letters is to be identified, they must be synthesized one at a time... To "identify" generally means to name, and hence to synthesize not only a visual object but a linguistic-auditory one... Hence the span of apprehension is limited to what can be synthesized, and then verbally stored.
    • p. 103; As cited in: A.H.C. Van der Heijden (1996)

Quotes about Ulric Neisser

  • The perseverating image, or as Neisser (1967) termed it, icon, has generated considerable interest, but an equally if not more interesting characteristic of this experimental technique is the means by which attention can be selectively directed in a matter of milliseconds to the relevant stimulus item.
    • Eriksen and Collins (1969, p. 254)
  • Ulrich Neisser's... book Cognitive Psychology did much to ignite the so-called cognitive revolution.
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