Cognitive Psychology

Cognitive Psychology is another school of thought which examines the internal processes or cognition and attempts to study the thought processes, memory and the stages involved in cognitive development on a long term basis. The two crucial characteristics of Cognitive Approach which differentiates the Cognitive Psychologists from other schools of thought have been described below:

  1. Cognitive approach to Psychology relies heavily on the scientific techniques for behaviour analysis unlike the behavioural approach which focuses on introspection for investigating behavioural patterns.
  2. Cognitive psychologists acknowledge the importance of internal mental conditions like thoughts, emotions, feelings and desires in influencing the day to day behavioural patterns.

The main goal of Cognitive Psychology is to study how humans acquire and put to use the acquired knowledge and information mentally just like a computer processor. The main presumption behind cognitive theory is that solutions to various problems take the form of heuristics, algorithms or insights. The key areas of research interest in Cognitive Psychology are memory, attention, perception, learning, thinking, language, categorization, etc.

Historical Background of Cognitive School of Thought

Though research evidences prove that researchers have undertaken research work previously on cognitive approaches, but Cognitive Psychology gained its importance as a subfield of psychology during late 50s and 60s. The field of cognitive psychology is heavily influenced by the developments in the field of computer science and technology.

Donald Broadbent in his book “Perception & Communication” in 1958, propounded information theory in which he unleashed newer insights and led the development of a new model of cognition involving information processing. Ulric Neisser coined the term “cognitive psychology” in one of his published books in 1967. The foundation of this approach was laid in the Gestalt psychology in the works of Max Wertheimer, Kurt Koffka, Wolfgang Köhler and Jean Piaget, who tried studying the intellectual studied intellectual advancement and growth in children.

Although Cognitive perspective is not the brainchild of any one researcher or thinker, Noam Chomsky (1928), has a significant part to play with his far-sighted findings on the cognitive revolution. The American Linguist was quite dissatisfied with the perspective of behaviourism and considered the behaviourism to be short sighted. He believed that in order to provide a meaningful interpretation to the psychological predispositions, cognition or internal mental state should be integrated along with the behavioural patterns (Miller, 2003).

Jean Piaget’s Cognitive Theory

Jean Piaget is known for his contributions towards the stage theory of cognitive advancement, which describes how children progress in terms of logical and scientific thinking over a period of time. As the children advance to the next stage, a progressive change or development can be seen in their thinking and reasoning capabilities.

Applications of Cognitive Psychology as a Specialized Discipline

Cognitive Psychology studies complex internal or mental processes which involve an analysis of the higher-order brain functioning including problem solving, thinking and language usage. The theory uses diverse range of cognitive tools to describe how humans perceive, interpret and act in response to their surroundings, including decision making and reasoning. Cognitive psychologists equally try to analyze how our emotions like fear and desire, influence our cognitive capabilities and certain times investigate along with the neuroscientists for diagnosing the emotional manifestations and its effect on the cognitive capabilities. Cognitive Psychology has its applications in industrial organizations, management, child development & psychology, education and a lot more fields.

Cognitive Psychology has it’s applications in various other fields related to psychology for resolving psychological issues both in organizational and personal context.

  • Depression: With the help of counselling techniques and cognitive therapies, the psychiatrists or the counsellors help their patients to fight out depression along with the antidepressants for treating depression.
  • Anti-Social and Aggressive Behaviour: The aggressive and anti-social behaviour of people depends upon how people process the social information and respond to others in response to other people’s behaviour. Kenneth Dodge identified five cues which people follow for assessing and responding to other people’s behaviour, which has been described below:

    • Encoding of the social information
    • Interpreting the social information or cues
    • Response search
    • Evaluating the responses
    • Implementing the response

    By becoming better aware of the above 5 crucial processes, people can make informed choices with respect to their social behavioural patterns and learn to control their aggression level in their behaviour by taking out time and thinking of each step as it comes.

  • Education: The study of cognitive psychology has an influence on the field of education in many different ways. Jean Piaget’s 4 stages of Cognitive Development take into consideration student’s mental and biological readiness during different stages to accept different information, which teachers must take into account while selecting the teaching modalities. Moreover, trainers and educators try to use Cognitive approach for imparting training to the learners by assessing the preferred learning styles which can be visual, auditory or kinaesthetic.
  • Advertisement and Cognitive Psychology: The market specialists make use of Cognitive Psychology concepts for designing their marketing programs which can impress the audience and influence their purchase behaviour.
  • Explains how Human Brains Process Information: Human brains do tend to process information just like computer processors by sorting, filtering and reproducing the desired outputs or eliciting the desired responses accordingly (Willingham, 2007).

Benefits and Limitations of Cognitive Approach

Cognitive approach has the advantage of being practically applicable in various fields and is appreciated for relying heavily on scientific techniques or experiments as the main method of research and investigation. The disadvantage of cognitive approach is that it relies heavily on the cognitive or internal mental processes, which cannot be observed directly. Since the findings are based on the investigation or study of the invisible processes, hence the theory has been criticized for being subjective and lacking the scientific approach, as a result of which the validity of the research findings are questionable. The theory has also been criticized for not taking into consideration the other factors which influence the behaviour as per Palmer and Hollin. The theory has been labelled as reductionist as the focus is just on 5 cognitive processes like attention, thought, perception, memory and language, while the other factors have been disregarded.


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