Cognitive Psychology

29.04.2015 |

Episode #9 of the course “Major Schools of Thought in Psychology”

Cognitive psychology was coined by Ulric Neisser when he published a book with that title in 1967, although the phrase was likely around in the 1950s as well. This school focuses on knowing and understanding the internal processes of the mind. In particular, cognitive psychologists want to know more about the mental activities required to acquire and use knowledge. They are interested in how the stimuli ultimately produce a reaction, not just the reaction itself.

Cognitive psychology focuses on the areas of perception, language, thinking (processing information), memory, and attention. They believe that the cognitive approach is scientific, so their focus is on experiments and case studies; in fact, part of this view’s development was happened during the new age of the computer. Psychologists were interested in comparing the human mind to how a computer processed information. They theorized that the brain, like a computer, inputs knowledge, stores that information, and accesses it when needed. This concept did have its critics, however. Some argued that comparing the human brain to a computer takes out a “human” element of thought that a computer cannot possibly have. Arguably, it also reduces the process to be much simpler than it should be.

One particularly famous cognitive psychologist is Jean Piaget. Piaget was one of the first psychologists to study cognitive development in a systematic way. While most of his research focused on children, many of his ideas applied to adults as well. He developed what he referred to as “schemata” (plural of schema). Schemata allow individuals to organize knowledge “units,” similar to how a computer would file information into folders or specific processes. Piaget theorized that as children developed, they created more and more schemata, which allowed them to process information faster.

The comparison to computers also allowed psychologists to realize how much more complex the human mind is when compared to something that is simpler and better understood. They realized just how much of a role emotion plays in decision-making.


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