Ulrich Neisser

Have you ever heard of “flashbulb” memories? It's a type of memory linked to strong emotions caused by a big event, such as the Challenger tragedy. Ulric Neisser put this to the test in one of his experiments. Within 24 hours of the disaster, participants recalled the incident and repeated the same procedure after two years.

Ulrich Neisser Ulrich Neisser

Create learning materials about Ulrich Neisser with our free learning app!

  • Instand access to millions of learning materials
  • Flashcards, notes, mock-exams and more
  • Everything you need to ace your exams
Create a free account
Table of contents

    Even though they were confident in their memories, the results turned out differently. He concluded that people might alter their recollections over time by repeatedly reciting the same stories to other people. In addition to his work on memory, Ulric Neisser accomplished a great deal more, earning him the title “father of cognitive psychology.”

    • Who is Ulrich Neisser?

    • How did Ulrich Neisser conduct his experiment?

    • What did Ulrich Neisser conclude from his investigation?

    • What is Ulrich Neisser's perceptual cycle hypothesis?

    • What did Ulrich Neisser contribute to psychology?

    Ulrich Neisser: Biography

    Ulrich Neisser, Pencil drawing of Ulrich Neisser, StudySmarterUlrich Neisser, StudySmarter Original

    Ulrich Neisser, also known as Ulric or Dick, was born on December 8, 1928, in Kiel, Germany. When Hitler and the Nazis assumed power in 1933, Neisser and his family relocated to Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, where his father taught at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School.

    Neisser entered Harvard in 1946, studying physics and later learning about psychology from George Miller, his advisor. In 1952, he finished his master's degree at Swarthmore College while working with Wolfgang Kohler, Hans Wallach, and Henry Gleitman. Neisser returned to Harvard, earned a PhD in 1956, and remained for another year as an instructor.

    In 1957, Neisser worked as a psychology professor at Brandeis University and became interested in cognitive psychology, where he and Oliver Selfridge worked on the pandemonium pattern recognition model. After Neisser published his first piece, Cognitive Psychology, in 1967, he moved to Cornell University.

    He did some more work in the field of cognitive psychology, including Cognition and Reality, Memory Observed, and tackling real-world memory problems, until he later moved to Emory University in 1983, where Ulric continued his academic career. In the 1990s, Neisser also became interested in intelligence investigations. In 1998, he left Emory University and returned to Cornell as a professor emeritus of psychology, where he taught for five more years.

    Ulric Neisser died from Parkinson's disease on February 17, 2012, at 83.

    George Miller and Ulric Neisser

    George Miller, a psychology professor at Harvard, had an indelible impact on Ulric Neisser, a physics major at the time, leading him to abandon physics and pursue a career in psychology, where Miller became his advisor. Neisser learned about information theory from George Miller, which compares the mind to a computer in terms of how it processes information and stores it in memory. According to George Miller's theory, our short-term memory can only simultaneously hold five to nine pieces of information. When Ulric Neisser's former advisor moved to MIT, he went there briefly before accepting an offer to teach at Swarthmore College.

    Ulrich Neisser: Experiments

    Ulrich Neisser's profound interest in cognitive psychology, memory, and perception led him to a series of experiments that would later revolutionize the field of cognitive psychology.

    Selective Looking

    Ulrich Neisser, Illustration of ball game and hand game presented to the participants, StudySmarterIllustration of ball game and hand game presented to the participants, StudySmarter Original

    In this experiment, Ulric Neisser and Robert Becklen (1975) sought to understand how a stimulus's visual presentation and optical distance can influence selection, attention, and perception. They presented two types of episodes in binocular and dichoptic views. Both eyes see two overlapping episodes in binocular vision. In the dichoptic vision, each eye sees a different episode.

    Ulrich Neisser, Illustration of superimposed events, StudySmarter Illustration of superimposed events, StudySmarter Original

    Neisser and Becklen asked 24 Cornell undergraduates to watch two superimposed events (a hand game and a ballgame) happening at once on a video screen. They conducted ten trials for each subject. The first four trials were fast episodes, which meant 40 ball passes (ball game video) and hand slaps (hand game video). Subjects either watched one or two episodes simultaneously, pressing buttons when something important happened in one episode and leaving the second episode unattended.

    The last six trials were slow episodes, which meant 20 ball passes or hand slaps. The subsequent trials involved the participants responding to both episodes at once or on one episode only while leaving the other unattended. Neisser and Becklen asked the participants to push the buttons when a significant event happened in the attended episode.

    Neisser and Becklen added odd events to the ignored episode during the trials. For example, the players would shake hands or do fake throwing movements until the real ball came into view.

    The results showed that subjects can still pay attention to a given episode even in the presence of a superimposed irrelevant episode. Performance dropped drastically when monitoring of the two episodes occurred simultaneously. Those assigned to the binocular view performed better in missing fewer targets. The subjects also rarely noticed the odd event.

    With these findings, Neisser and Becklen suggested that selective attention results from visual perception regarding the ability to follow visual events. As shown in the ball game or hand game, they also proposed eye movements are a product of selective attention. Additionally, they rejected the idea of some filter blocking irrelevant information (unattended episodes) from entering the visual processes.

    Ulrich Neisser, A room with window, StudySmarterAn illustration of selective focus, pexels.com

    Studies on dichotic listening gave Ulric Neisser the idea for the selective-looking experiment. In dichotic listening, a person listens to two different sounds, one in each ear. The task is to focus on one sound and ignore the other. In the same way, Ulric Neisser used this idea in visual form when he realized he could either look out the window or focus on the room's reflection in the window.

    Ulrich Neisser: Contribution to Psychology

    Known as the “father of cognitive psychology,” Ulrich Neisser sparked a cognitive movement with the publication of his first book, Cognitive Psychology, in 1967. Neisser's work challenged behaviorism and widened the cognitive approach, uniting researchers in the discipline and helping to develop cognitive psychology.

    Ulric Neisser's support for understanding human nature prompted him to go beyond theories and laboratory studies. He also pushed for ecological cognitive research, coming from his discontent with cognitive research, emphasizing laboratory settings above real-life scenarios.

    According to Neisser, cognitive research should not be restricted to the laboratory but rather find application in real-world contexts where we can use our memory, perception, attention, and other mental processes. More than just laboratory findings, he sought to show that cognitive psychology makes a difference concerning significant issues.

    Ulrich Neisser, Photograph of John Dean, StudySmarter John Dean, commons.wikimedia.org

    Neisser's ecologically focused research helped broaden cognitive psychology by increasing the need for more research and other methodologies and questions. An example is his case study of John Dean's Watergate testimony, for which he found that it differs from what was recorded.

    John Dean, a former White House counselor, testified about the Watergate break-in and was implicated in a cover-up. During the investigation, recorded tapes of John Dean's conversations with President Richard Nixon were found and compared to his testimony in court. Ulric Neisser studied the recorded tapes and the testimony. He concluded that the general idea is accurate but that his memories of specific events do not reflect the events themselves but rather his repeated related experiences.

    Neisser developed the concept of “repisodic” memory from this, which refers to memories that, we believe, are a reproduction of the past but actually represent repeated experiences. In other words, Neisser describes human memory as a product of active reconstruction and not merely a reproduced product in its exact form.

    Furthermore, Neisser's publications drew attention to the cognitive self and issues in IQ testing, for which he led an American Psychological Association Task Force on intelligence in the 1990s.

    Ulrich Neisser Definition Cognitive Psychology

    Ulric Neisser introduced a new way of studying the mind. In his book Cognitive Psychology, Neisser defined this discipline as the study of constructive cognitive processes, which includes how stimulus information is processed, analyzed, stored, and utilized. Neisser thought that the increasing power of computers could make the measurement of cognitive mechanisms easier. In his view of cognitive psychology, he also stressed the ideas of information and constructive processing. He believes cognition is essential to what a person can do. He put forward these ideas in response to the dominant school in psychology at the time, which is behaviorism.

    Ulrich Neisser: Theory

    Ulrich Neisser also looked into perception and put together his ideas, which he called the “perceptual cycle.” James Gibson's ecological theory mainly influenced him that perception is direct, which says that we can understand what we see without having to interpret it because there is enough information in our environment.

    Ulrich Neisser, Illustration of perceptual cycle, StudySmarter Illustration of perceptual cycle, StudySmarter Original

    The Perceptual Cycle

    The idea of this theory is that perception is a cycle, where activation of schemata through perceptual information directs our attention and activity in pursuit of further information.

    Neisser defined schemata as an internal knowledge framework that is part of the perceptual cycle but actively accepts information about what is observed. The schema also leads to perceptual inquiry, allowing new information to be perceived, which modifies them.

    To illustrate this further, let's look at the main principles of the perceptual cycle:

    Perception is a building process that goes on all the time.

    According to Neisser, we anticipate as we take in information, guided by our schema and accessible information. What we see motivates us to seek more information. As we explore and accept input, our schema is updated, leading us to engage in further perceptual inquiry and acceptance of new information. This ongoing process consists of event anticipation, exploration, and available information.

    Ulrich Neisser, 3 cups and a small ball, StudySmarterIllustration of cup game, StudySmarter Original

    Consider playing a cup game in which a ball or a coin is beneath one of the cups. The second player will keep rearranging the cups in different positions with two other similar cups. Your goal is to keep track of which cup the ball or coin is placed in so that while the other player shuffles, you may monitor the movement of the cup while ignoring the other two cups.

    As you develop anticipations about the position of the cup, you gather and accept information. As the shuffle speed increases, you adapt your eye and head motions based on what you perceive, and your schema about the cup also changes. You immediately notice sudden movements, with every action confirming your expectations.

    Perception is the result of how schemata and available information work together.

    Neisser states that our schemata vary depending on available information. As mentioned earlier, schemata guide perceptual exploration. Neisser compares the schema to a format, where accessible information in a perceptual cycle can affect the format, shaping how incoming information is absorbed and impacting what is perceived.

    Imagine arriving home and finding your book missing. Your schema for the book has changed based on what you know now. This is what led you to decide to find your book. At this point, your new schema tells you what to do and how to look around while taking in further information.

    Perception also involves the use of cognitive maps.

    Neisser says that cognitive maps are a type of schema, but a bigger one that also works with our information and guides our actions. The schema we talked about earlier is just a small part of a whole cognitive map. The schema tells us where to look, and the cognitive map tells us where to go and what to do next.

    You're going on vacation to your favorite location, and your cognitive map is preparing you for the information you'll receive when you arrive, which is referred to as spatial anticipation. As you anticipate, you create a mental image, which Neisser defined as an information-gathering strategy, which is also a part of your spatial anticipation.

    When you arrive, you notice a recently completed water park and decide to rearrange your plans to visit the water park first before eating out. This way, the schemata and cognitive maps can also change our behavior.

    Ulric Neisser - Key takeaways

    • Ulrich Neisser began a cognitive movement with his publication of Cognitive Psychology in 1967, which earned him the title "father of cognitive psychology."

    • Ulrich Neisser conducted his experiment on selective attention, which involved participants responding to an attended episode of either a hand game or ball game or watching two episodes simultaneously while responding to the two episodes.

    • Ulrich Neisser is a proponent of ecologically oriented research as he aimed to make cognitive psychology meaningful and applicable in real-world settings through his works and contributions to memory, perception, and other cognitive processes.

    • Ulrich Neisser's perceptual cycle hypothesis states that perception involves activating our schemata, which prepares and guides us to obtain more information.


    References

    1. Neisser, U., & Becklen, R. (1975). Selective looking: Attending to visually specified events. Cognitive psychology, 7(4), 480-494.
    2. Neisser, U. (1978). Perceiving, anticipating, and imagining.
    3. Neisser, U., & Memory, J. D. A Case Study, 9 Cognition 1981.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Ulrich Neisser

    What is Ulric Neisser's theory?  

    Ulrich Neisser also looked into perception and put together his ideas, which he called the “perceptual cycle.” James Gibson's ecological theory mainly influenced him that perception is direct, which says that we can understand what we see without having to interpret it because there is enough information in our environment. 

    What are the main principles of Ulric Neisser theory?  

    Perception is a building process that goes on all the time. 

    Perception is the result of how schemata and available information work together. 

    Perception also involves the use of cognitive maps. 

    Who is the founder of cognitive psychology?  

    Known as the “father of cognitive psychology,” Ulrich Neisser sparked a cognitive movement with the publication of his first book, Cognitive Psychology, in 1967. 

    How does Ulric Neisser define cognitive psychology?  

    Ulric Neisser introduced a new way of studying the mind. In his book Cognitive Psychology, Neisser defined this discipline as the study of constructive cognitive processes, which includes how stimulus information is processed, analyzed, stored, and utilized. 

    What did Ulric Neisser contribute to psychology? 

    Neisser's work challenged behaviorism and widened the cognitive approach, uniting researchers in the discipline and helping to develop cognitive psychology. 

    1
    About StudySmarter

    StudySmarter is a globally recognized educational technology company, offering a holistic learning platform designed for students of all ages and educational levels. Our platform provides learning support for a wide range of subjects, including STEM, Social Sciences, and Languages and also helps students to successfully master various tests and exams worldwide, such as GCSE, A Level, SAT, ACT, Abitur, and more. We offer an extensive library of learning materials, including interactive flashcards, comprehensive textbook solutions, and detailed explanations. The cutting-edge technology and tools we provide help students create their own learning materials. StudySmarter’s content is not only expert-verified but also regularly updated to ensure accuracy and relevance.

    Learn more
    StudySmarter Editorial Team

    Team Ulrich Neisser Teachers

    • 12 minutes reading time
    • Checked by StudySmarter Editorial Team
    Save Explanation

    Study anywhere. Anytime.Across all devices.

    Sign-up for free

    Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.

    Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App

    The first learning app that truly has everything you need to ace your exams in one place

    • Flashcards & Quizzes
    • AI Study Assistant
    • Study Planner
    • Mock-Exams
    • Smart Note-Taking
    Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App