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Cognitive psychology is the school of psychology that examines internal mental processes such as problem solving, memory, and language. It had its foundations in the Gestalt psychology of Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Köhler, and Kurt Koffka, and in the work of Jean Piaget, who studied intellectual development in children. Cognitive psychologists are interested in how people understand, diagnose, and solve problems, concerning themselves with the mental processes which mediate between stimulus and response. Cognitive theory contends that solutions to problems take the form of algorithms—rules that are not necessarily understood but promise a solution, or heuristics—rules that are understood but that do not always guarantee solutions. In other instances, solutions may be found through insight, a sudden awareness of relationships.
Ulric Neisser coined the term 'cognitive psychology' in his book published in 1967, wherein Neisser provides a definition of cognitive psychology, emphasising that it is a point of view which postulates the mind as having a certain conceptual structure. Neisser's point of view endows the discipline a scope which expands beyond high-level concepts such as "reasoning", often espoused in other works as a definition of cognitive psychology. Neisser's definition of cognition illustrates this well:
...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.
Cognitive psychology is radically different from previous psychological approaches in two key ways.
- It accepts the use of the scientific method, and generally rejects introspection as a valid method of investigation, unlike phenomenological methods such as Freudian psychology.
- It explicitly acknowledges the existence of internal mental states (such as belief, desire and motivation) unlike behaviorist psychology.
The school of thought arising from this approach is known as cognitivism.
Cognitive psychology is one of the more recent additions to psychological research, having only developed as a separate area within the discipline since the late 1950s and early 1960s (though there are examples of cognitive thinking from earlier researchers). The cognitive approach was brought to prominence by Donald Broadbent's book Perception and Communication in 1958. Since that time, the dominant paradigm in the area has been the information processing model of cognition that Broadbent put forward. This is a way of thinking and reasoning about mental processes, envisaging them as software running on the computer that is the brain. Theories refer to forms of input, representation, computation or processing, and outputs. Applied to language as the primary mental knowledge representation system, cognitive psychology has exploited tree and network mental models. Its singular contribution to AI and psychology in general is the notion of a semantic network. One of the first cognitive psychologists, George Miller is well-known for dedicating his career to the development of WordNet, a semantic network for the English language. Development began in 1985 and is now the foundation for many machine ontologies.
This way of conceiving mental processes has pervaded psychology more generally over the past few decades, and it is not uncommon to find cognitive theories within social psychology, personality psychology, abnormal psychology, and developmental psychology; the application of cognitive theories to comparative psychology has driven many recent studies in animal cognition.
Because of the use of computational metaphors and terminology, cognitive psychology was able to benefit greatly from the flourishing of research in artificial intelligence and other related areas in the 1960s and 1970s. In fact, it developed as one of the significant aspects of the inter-disciplinary subject of cognitive science, which attempts to integrate a range of approaches in research on the mind and mental processes.
Major research areas in cognitive psychology
- Attention and Filter theories (the ability to focus mental effort on specific stimuli whilst excluding other stimuli from consideration)
- Pattern recognition (the ability to correctly interpret ambiguous sensory information)
- Object recognition
- Time sensation (awareness and estimation of the passage of time)
- Category induction and acquisition
- Categorical judgement and classification
- Category representation and structure
- Similarity (psychology)
- Aging and memory
- Autobiographical memory
- Constructive memory
- Emotion and memory
- Episodic memory
- False memories
- Flashbulb memory
- List of memory biases
- Long-term memory
- Semantic memory
- Spaced repetition
- Source monitoring
- Working memory
- Mental imagery
- Propositional encoding
- Imagery versus proposition debate
- Dual-coding theories
- Mental models
- Choice (see also: Choice theory)
- Concept formation
- Decision making
- Judgment and decision making
- Logic, formal and natural reasoning
- Problem solving
Influential cognitive psychologists
- Animal cognition
- Cognitive bias
- Cognitive Interventions
- Cognitive neuropsychology
- Cognitive neuroscience
- Cognitive poetics
- Cognitive robotics
- Cognitive science
- Discursive psychology
- Ecological psychology
- Evolutionary psychology
- Intelligent system
- Situated cognition
- Political psychology
- Psychological adaptation
- Baars, B.J. (1986). The cognitive revolution in psychology. New York:Guilford
- Garner, H. (1985). The mind's new science: A history of the cognitive revolution. New York:Basic books
- Mey, M. de (1982) The cognitive paradigm. Dordecht:D. Reidel
- Cognitive psychology at The Psychology Wiki
- Cognitive Approach in Psychology
- The Cognitive Continuum from Myth to Nondual Thought
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