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Seven ages of Max. Andy Young Psychology University of York England. Maxschrift, MACCS March 2009. Overview. Max Coltheart is a towering figure in cognitive psychology.

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seven ages of max

Seven ages of Max

Andy Young


University of York


Maxschrift, MACCS

March 2009

  • Max Coltheart is a towering figure in cognitive psychology.
  • Cognitive psychology uses evidence to understand human mental abilities such as perception, memory, language and reasoning. It has its roots in work from the 1940s and 1950s, but it was Neisser’s 1967 book defined it as a distinct enterprise.
  • Max’s PhD was submitted in 1968, so his career has been largely synchronous with the huge explosion of interest in the field that followed Neisser’s setting the scene.
  • Max’s contributions have been notably wide-ranging, covering many areas of the field and using all of its major approaches – a number of which he himself pioneered or was there from the outset.

During the period covered by Max’s career, cognitive psychology has itself grown enormously – metamorphosing into the much grander and all-embracing cognitive science – a development that many fear has represented a takeover of the core psychology curriculum for which Max has been in no small part responsible.

  • Max has therefore become the cognitive psychologist's cognitive psychologist.
  • So how has he achieved this commanding position?
  • We will look at some of Max’s contributions to a selection of topics covering the entire span of his career to date.
Monologue from Shakespeare’s 'As You Like It':

“All the world's a stage,

And all the men and women merely players;

They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts,

His acts being seven ages.”

Seven ages of Max...

the first age minimax
The first age: MiniMax

“At first the infant,

Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms;"


"And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel

And shining morning face, creeping like snail

Unwillingly to school.”

1957-1964: undergraduate and postgraduate student at University of Sydney
  • acquiring essential academic skills
  • see if you can spot at least one other well-known Australian prof in this picture…
the second age eyemax
The second age:EyeMax

1965-1966: lecturing at University of Sydney

1967-1969: lecturing at Monash University

A classic problem solved - use of retinal size

Participants viewed a disc of light and judged its distance.

All visual distance cues other than retinal size eliminated:

  • monocular viewing through pinhole - no stereopsis
  • room was dark - no cues from surroundings
  • no knowledge of room - blindfolded and brought via a circuitous route
  • But retinal size is ambiguous - a three-inch disk at three feet could be a six-inch disc at six feet.
  • so disambiguating verbal or tactile information was given…
  • participants could use this - so they can use retinal size!
  • Coltheart, M. The effects of two kinds of distance information upon visual judgments of absolute size. Nature, 1969, 221, 383.




Visual memory without cueing

With a cue immediately after presentation, the cued item can be reported, leading to Sperling's idea of a short-lived 'iconic' visual memory store

Developing the iconic memory approach
  • an artifact of tachistoscope technology?
  • Coltheart, M., Lea, C.D., and Thompson, K. In defence of iconic memory. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 1974, 26, 633-641.
  • more than one form of persistence is probably involved…
  • Coltheart, M. Persistences of vision. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 1980, 290, 57-69.
  • Newell’s (1972) critique of 1960s experimental psychology – need for overarching theory and value of problems that come from outside the psychology laboratory
  • Coltheart, M. Ecological necessity of iconic memory. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 1981, 6, 17-18.

Shift to Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP) and other paradigms

  • e.g. Veronika Coltheart's studies
the third age logomax
The third age:LogoMax

1969-1972: University of Waterloo, Canada

1972-1975: University of Reading, UK


1969-1972: University of Waterloo, Canada

It took a while to get used to life in the opposite hemisphere…

A neuropsychological application (cerebral asymmetry) building on elements of the iconic memory technique
  • brief visual hemifield presentation
  • letter strings
  • hemifield report
  • Coltheart, M., and Arthur, B. Visual hemifield differences in tachistoscopic performance with visual hemifield report. American Journal of Psychology, 1971, 84, 355-364.
1972-1975: University of Reading, UK
  • reading words
  • Forster and Chambers (1973)
  • mental chronometry - e.g. time to read words, time to decide whether or not a string of letters is a word

one of the first psychologists to dress like a rock star…

BPS invited paper – Imperial College, London, December 1973 – “The organisation of word recognition”


We can use more than one way of converting print into sounds - the corner stone of dual-route models of reading


  • rint, sint

Regular words

  • hint, mint
  • Irregular words
  • pint
  • Homophones
  • so and sew
  • Pseudohomophones
  • brain and brane

Visual information we use in reading


AnD sO iS mIxEd CaSe

  • So, to some extent, we can make use of abstract letter identities
  • Coltheart, M., and Freeman, R. Case alternation impairs word identification. Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society, 1974, 3, 102-104.
Orthographic information we use in reading

The orthographic neighbourhood – aka Coltheart’s N

  • an orthographic neighbour is a word that differs from the original string by changing only one letter
  • for example, orthographic neighbours of the word 'cat' include 'bat', 'fat', 'cot', 'cab', etc.
  • Coltheart, M., Davelaar, E., Jonasson, J.T., and Besner, D. Access to the internal lexicon. In Dornic, S. (Ed.), Attention and Performance VI. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1977.
the fourth age neuromax
The fourth age:NeuroMax


Birkbeck College, University of London, UK

Acquired disorders of reading

Marshall and Newcombe 1973 - deep dyslexia

Semantic errors

  • dinner read as "food"
  • uncle - "cousin"
  • Derivational errors
  • wise - "wisdom"
  • Visual errors
  • stock - "shock"
  • Problems with function words
  • some - "one of them horrid words again"
  • Inability to read nonwords
  • wux - "don't know"
  • Mixed errors
  • sympathy - "orchestra"









The first deep dyslexia meeting




The deep dyslexia book
  • Coltheart, M. Deep dyslexia: a review of the syndrome. In Coltheart, M., Patterson, K., and Marshall, J.C. (Eds.), Deep Dyslexia. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1980.
  • Coltheart, M. Reading phonological recoding, and deep dyslexia. In Coltheart, M., Patterson, K., and Marshall, J.C. (Eds.), op.cit.
  • Coltheart, M. The semantic error: types and theories. In Coltheart, M., Patterson, K., and Marshall, J.C. (Eds.), op.cit.
  • Coltheart, M. Deep dyslexia: a right hemisphere hypothesis. In Coltheart, M., Patterson, K., and Marshall, J.C. (Eds.), op.cit.
Cognitive Neuropsychology

Defining the field and its approach:

  • using theories of normal performance to account for effects of brain injury
  • using effects of brain injury to test theories of normal performance

and founding the journal…

  • and committing the first heresy - the right hemisphere account of deep dyslexia
  • Coltheart, M. Deep dyslexia: a right hemisphere hypothesis. In Coltheart, M., Patterson, K., and Marshall, J.C. (Eds.), op.cit.
the fifth age modelmax
The fifth age:ModelMax

1987-1997: Macquarie University

Functional architecture
  • dual-route theory - evidence
  • Coltheart, M. and Rastle, K. Serial processing in reading aloud: Evidence for dual-route models of reading. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 1994, 20, 1197-1211.
  • Functional modelling
  • Dual-Route Cascaded (DRC) implemented model
  • Coltheart, M., Rastle, K., Perry, C., Langdon, R., & Ziegler, J. (2001) DRC: A Dual Route Cascaded model of visual word recognition and reading aloud. Psychological Review , 108, 204 - 256.
Understanding developmental disorders


  • possibility of different types of developmental dyslexia, and their relation to theories of reading
  • Castles, A. and Coltheart, M. Varieties of developmental dyslexia. Cognition, 1993, 47, 149-180.

Congenital prosopagnosia

  • heterogeneity of symptoms between different members of same family with problems in face recognition
  • Schmaltzl, L., Palermo, R. and Coltheart, M. Cognitive heterogeneity in congenitally based prosopagnosia: a family study. Journal of Neuropsychology, 2008, 2, 899-117.

Teaching and rehabilitation

  • theory-driven rehabilitation
  • rehabilitation as a strong test of underlying theory
  • Coltheart, M. Bates, A. and Castles, A. Cognitive neuropsychology and rehabilitation. In Humphreys, G.W. and Riddoch, M.J. (eds): Cognitive Neuropsychology and Cognitive Rehabilitation. London: Lawrence Erlbaum 1994.
the sixth age mad max
The sixth age:Mad Max

2000 onwards: MACCS

Cognitive neuropsychiatry

  • applies logic of cognitive neuropsychology to 'psychiatric' phenomena such as delusions and hallucinations
Studying and simulating false beliefs
  • mirror misidentification
  • Breen, N., Caine, D. & Coltheart, M. (2001) Mirrored-self misidentification: Two cases of focal-onset dementia. Neurocase , 7, 239-254
  • Barnier, A.J., Cox, R.E., O’Connor, A., Coltheart, M., Langdon, R., Breen, N., & Turner, M. (2008). Developing hypnotic analogues of clinical delusions: Mirrored-self misidentification. Cognitive Neuropsychiatry, 13, 406-430
  • Dual-factor theory
  • a generic model applicable to a wide range of delusions
  • Langdon, R. & Coltheart, M. The cognitive neuropsychology of delusions. Mind & Language, 2000, 15, 184-218.

The seventh age: Double Max

A national treasure…

  • ARC Foundation Fellow
  • Fellow of the British Academy
  • Commonwealth Centenary Medal
  • Bartlett Lecturer
  • Australian Museums Eureka Prize
  • etc., etc., etc.

How does he do it?

  • clever ideas
  • always ready to push a point as far as it will go
  • quick to identify new areas and techniques
  • able to see how to bring different lines of research together in beneficial ways
  • extraordinary capacity for hard work
  • exceptional talent for collaboration

Max the bon viveur

  • encyclopaedic knowledge of wine, clearly based on in-depth practical tasting sessions
  • familiar with the finest restaurants in Sydney, and warmly greeted by the owners and shown to the best table

Paradoxes of Max

  • he must be hugely busy doing all these things - yet he responds immediately to all e-mails
  • Max in person and Max in print
  • strange parallel with Capgras delusion
from the Coltheart attic…

The picture of

Dorian Coltheart

Shakespeare's final age

“Last scene of all,

That ends this strange eventful history,

Is second childishness and mere oblivion;

Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything”


Thanks to Veronika, Anne and other spies and informants...

And thanks to Max, for so much inspiration on so many levels!