Toward an Atlas of Canonical Cognitive Mechanisms

Angelo Pirrone*, Konstantinos Tsetsos

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debate (Academic Journal)peer-review


A central goal in Cognitive Science is understanding the mechanisms that underlie cognition. Here, we contend that Cognitive Science, despite intense multidisciplinary efforts, has furnished surprisingly few mechanistic insights. We attribute this slow mechanistic progress to the fact that cognitive scientists insist on performing underdetermined exercises, deriving overparametrized mechanistic theories of complex behaviors and seeking validation of these theories to the elusive notions of optimality and biological plausibility. We propose that mechanistic progress in Cognitive Science will accelerate once cognitive scientists start focusing on simpler explananda that will enable them to chart an atlas of elementary cognitive operations. Looking forward, the next challenge for Cognitive Science will be to understand how these elementary cognitive processes are pieced together to explain complex behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere13243
JournalCognitive Science
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 6 Feb 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by a European Research Council Starting Grant under the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation program (Grant No. 802905, awarded to KT).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Cognitive Science Society LLC.

Structured keywords

  • Cognitive Science


  • Biological plausibility
  • Cognitive science
  • Inference
  • Mechanisms
  • Optimality


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