In general, information processing is the changing (processing) of information in any manner detectable by an observer. As such, it is a process which describes everything which happens (changes) in the universe, from the falling of a rock (a change in position) to the printing of a text file from a digital computer system. In the latter case, an information processor is changing the form of presentation of that text file.
In cognitive psychology, information processing is an approach to the goal of understanding human thinking. It arose in the 1940s and 1950s. The essence of the approach is to see cognition as being essentially computational in nature, with mind being the software and the brain being the hardware. The information processing approach in psychology is closely allied to cognitivism in psychology and functionalism in philosophy although the terms are not quite synonymous.
Information processing can be sequential or parallel, which can both be either centralized or decentralized (distributed). The parallel distributed processing in mid-1980s became popular under the name connectionism. In early 1950s Friedrich Hayek was ahead of his time when he posited the idea of spontaneous order in the brain arising out of decentralized networks of simple units (neurons). However, Hayek is rarely cited in the literature of connectionism.
See also the Information Processing Languages (IPL), by Newell, Shaw and Simon.
- Allen Newell, Unified Theories of Cognition, Harvard University Press (1990).