Cognitive Architectures: A Way Forward for the Psychology of Programming

Hansen, M. E., Lumsdaine, A., & Goldstone, R. L. (2012).  Cognitive Architectures: A Way Forward for the Psychology of Programming.  Onward! Workshop at the Third Annual SPLASH Conference 2012.

Programming language and library designers often debate the usability of particular design choices. These choices may impact many developers, yet scientific evidence for them is rarely provided. Cognitive models of program comprehension have existed for over thirty years, but lack quantitative definitions of their internal components and processes. To ease the burden of quantifying existing models, we recommend using the ACT-R cognitive architecture: a simulation framework for psychological models. In this paper, we provide a high-level overview of modern cognitive architectures while concentrating on the details of ACT-R. We review an existing quantitative program comprehension model, and consider how it could be simplified and implemented within the ACT-R framework. Lastly, we discuss the challenges and potential benefits associated with building a comprehensive cognitive model on top of a cognitive architecture.

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