Figure

The problem of being specific. Copyright © 1977 by Sidney Harris in American Scientist Magazine. Reproduced with permission of the author.

with the psychological theory, but which are there simply because of the particular programming language being used and the machine on which the program is running. For example, in order to see what the program is doing, it is necessary to have print commands in the program which show the outputs of various stages in the computer's screen. However, no-one would argue that such print commands form part of the psychological model. Cooper et al. (1996) argue that psychological theories should not be

Three issues sorrounding computer simulation:

• Is it possible to decompose a theory until one reaches the level of a written program?

• Is it possible to separate psychological aspects of a program f rom other aspects?

• Are there differences in reaction time between programs and human participants?

described using natural language at all, but that a formal specification language should be used. This would be a very precise language, like a logic, that would be directly executable as a program.

Other issues arise about the relationship between the performance of the program and the performance of human participants (Costello & Keane, 2000). For example, it is seldom meaningful to relate the speed of the program doing a simulated task to the reaction time taken by human participants, because the processing times of programs are affected by psychologically irrelevant features. Programs run faster on more powerful computers, or if the program's code is interpreted rather than compiled. However, the various materials that are presented to the program should result in differences in program operation time that correlate closely with differences in participants' reaction times in processing the same materials. At the very least, the program should be able to reproduce the same outputs as participants when given the same inputs.

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