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top-down processing

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Information processing that proceeds from information already stored in memory, especially general assumptions or presuppositions about the material being processed, as when a person forms a hypothesis on the basis of existing schemata and prior experience about what an object might be and then uses sensory evidence to corroborate or disconfirm the hypothesis. In reading indistinct handwriting, for example, if the words whisky and  …  occur and the last word is illegible, a reader may use top-down processing and guess the last word to be water, checking the script for evidence to confirm or refute this guess, and if it is refuted, to guess that the word is soda and performing another check, and so on. A standard illustration of top-down processing is the phenomenon of reversal in an ambiguous figure, which irresistibly oscillates between different interpretations. Top-down theories of perception are theories according to which perceptions are formed in this way. The term was introduced by the US psychologists Donald A. Norman (born 1935) and David E(verett) Rumelhart (1942–2011) in their book Exploration in Cognition (1975). Also called conceptually driven processing. See also analysis by synthesis, constructive memory, constructivism, reconstructive memory. Compare bottom-up processing, feature detection theory.

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