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Nicholas Ross
Nicholas Ross

Cognitive Psychology



Kendra Cherry, MS, is the author of the "Everything Psychology Book (2nd Edition)" and has written thousands of articles on diverse psychology topics. Kendra holds a Master of Science degree in education from Boise State University with a primary research interest in educational psychology and a Bachelor of Science in psychology from Idaho State University with additional coursework in substance use and case management.




Cognitive Psychology



Findings from cognitive psychology help us understand how people think, including how they acquire and store memories. By knowing more about how these processes work, psychologists can develop new ways of helping people with cognitive problems.


From understanding how cognitive processes change as a child develops to looking at how the brain transforms sensory inputs into perceptions, cognitive psychology has helped us gain a deeper and richer understanding of the many mental events that contribute to our daily existence and overall well-being.


Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an approach that helps clients identify irrational beliefs and other cognitive distortions that are in conflict with reality and then aid them in replacing such thoughts with more realistic, healthy beliefs.


Ulric Neisser is considered the founder of cognitive psychology. He was the first to introduce the term and to define the field of cognitive psychology. His primary interests were in the areas of perception and memory, but he suggested that all aspects of human thought and behavior were relevant to the study of cognition.


A cognitive map refers to a mental representation of an environment. Such maps can be formed through observation as well as through trial and error. These cognitive maps allow people to orient themselves in their environment.


While they share some similarities, there are some important differences between cognitive neuroscience and cognitive psychology. While cognitive psychology focuses on thinking processes, cognitive neuroscience is focused on finding connections between thinking and specific brain activity. Cognitive neuroscience also looks at the underlying biology that influences how information is processed.


Forstmann BU, Wagenmakers EJ, Eichele T, Brown S, Serences JT. Reciprocal relations between cognitive neuroscience and formal cognitive models: opposites attract?. Trends Cogn Sci. 2011;15(6):272-279. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2011.04.002


Cognitive psychology originated in the 1960s in a break from behaviorism, which held from the 1920s to 1950s that unobservable mental processes were outside the realm of empirical science. This break came as researchers in linguistics and cybernetics, as well as applied psychology, used models of mental processing to explain human behavior.Work derived from cognitive psychology was integrated into other branches of psychology and various other modern disciplines like cognitive science, linguistics, and economics.The domain of cognitive psychology overlaps with that of cognitive science, which takes a more interdisciplinary approach and includes studies of non-human subjects and artificial intelligence.


With the philosophical debate continuing, the mid to late 19th century was a critical time in the development of psychology as a scientific discipline. Two discoveries that would later play substantial roles in cognitive psychology were Paul Broca's discovery of the area of the brain largely responsible for language production,[3] and Carl Wernicke's discovery of an area thought to be mostly responsible for comprehension of language.[5] Both areas were subsequently formally named for their founders, and disruptions of an individual's language production or comprehension due to trauma or malformation in these areas have come to commonly be known as Broca's aphasia and Wernicke's aphasia.


From the 1920s to the 1950s, the main approach to psychology was behaviorism. Initially, its adherents viewed mental events such as thoughts, ideas, attention, and consciousness as unobservables, hence outside the realm of a science of psychology. One pioneer of cognitive psychology, who worked outside the boundaries (both intellectual and geographical) of behaviorism was Jean Piaget. From 1926 to the 1950s and into the 1980s, he studied the thoughts, language, and intelligence of children and adults.[6]


Ulric Neisser put the term "cognitive psychology" into common use through his book Cognitive Psychology, published in 1967.[9][10] Neisser's definition of "cognition" illustrates the then-progressive concept of cognitive processes:


The term "cognition" refers to all processes by which the sensory input is transformed, reduced, elaborated, stored, recovered, and used. It is concerned with these processes even when they operate in the absence of relevant stimulation, as in images and hallucinations. ... Given such a sweeping definition, it is apparent that cognition is involved in everything a human being might possibly do; that every psychological phenomenon is a cognitive phenomenon. But although cognitive psychology is concerned with all human activity rather than some fraction of it, the concern is from a particular point of view. Other viewpoints are equally legitimate and necessary. Dynamic psychology, which begins with motives rather than with sensory input, is a case in point. Instead of asking how a man's actions and experiences result from what he saw, remembered, or believed, the dynamic psychologist asks how they follow from the subject's goals, needs, or instincts.[9]


One major focal point relating to attention within the field of cognitive psychology is the concept of divided attention. A number of early studies dealt with the ability of a person wearing headphones to discern meaningful conversation when presented with different messages into each ear; this is known as the dichotic listening task.[4] Key findings involved an increased understanding of the mind's ability to both focus on one message, while still being somewhat aware of information being taken in from the ear not being consciously attended to. For example, participants (wearing earphones) may be told that they will be hearing separate messages in each ear and that they are expected to attend only to information related to basketball. When the experiment starts, the message about basketball will be presented to the left ear and non-relevant information will be presented to the right ear. At some point the message related to basketball will switch to the right ear and the non-relevant information to the left ear. When this happens, the listener is usually able to repeat the entire message at the end, having attended to the left or right ear only when it was appropriate.[4] The ability to attend to one conversation in the face of many is known as the cocktail party effect.