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Cognitive psychology

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Scan of the human brain

Cognitive psychology is the study of the processes of the mind. This encompasses many facets of human mental ability, such as thought, awareness, attention, language, and memory among others. This particular branch of psychology was popularized by Uric Neisser, who wrote the book Cognitive Psychology, published in 1967. [1]. This facet of psychology primarily focuses on how humans perceive the world around them and how this perception develops over the years. This is an ever-growing field that gains new relevance every day. [2]

What is Cognitive Psychology?

Cognitive Psychology involves perception, memory, attention, and the ability to think

Cognitive psychology, in simple terms, is the study of the mind. Psychologists deem it as "the mental act or process by which knowledge is acquired."[3] This facet of psychology focuses on cognitive activity, which encompasses how humans perceive, how they learn, their language, attention, memory, and ability to think. In short, this branch of psychology centers around how the mind responds and reacts to external stimuli. Cognitive psychology is a very broad area of study involving other aspects of psychology, including cognitive neuroscience, personality psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, developmental psychology, linguistics, and many others.[4] At its very core, cognitive psychology focuses on how the mind processes and responds to stimuli.

Cognitive Psychologists research, confirm or disprove hypotheses via the empirical method. The empirical method consists of drawing conclusions based solely on experience or experiment. [5] This originally differed with other popular branches of psychology of the time, such as Freudian psychology, which encouraged interpretation (for example, interpreting symbols in dreams). Critics originally claimed cognitive psychology's preference for empirical evidence as contradictory to its assumption that desires, beliefs, motivations, etc. exist. More recently, cognitive neuroscience has explicitly shown that mental states can directly correspond with physiological brain states.[6]


Cognitive Psychology encompasses a wide variety of branches. Because it focuses on the processes of the human mind, many facets of psychology naturally overlap or are encompassed by it. Additionally, discoveries made in this particular field can readily apply to other branches. Some of these include, but are not limited to:

Social Psychology

Social Psychology centers around the social habits of human beings. Humans are communal creatures that desire to interact with one another; this is where social psychology comes in. This branch studies the personal differences between human beings, distinctiveness, attitude, behaviorism, perception, racism, bias, and other subjects. It explores humans' interactions with others in society and delves into what makes our social behavior tick.[7]

Developmental Psychology

Over the years, cognitive psychology has done much to expand this facet of study. It explores the changes that take place within the human mind over the course of their growing age and, in some cases, the entirety of their life. Cognitive psychology is very similar to this study, for both explore the growth of perception, awareness, memory, knowledge, and thinking ability in children as they progress into adulthood.[8]

Academic Psychology

Concepts encompassed by cognitive psychology often leak into this facet of the science. Theories developed and discovered by cognitive psychologists are now commonly utilized by scientists within this field. This branch of psychology centers around how humans remember, relate to, and categorize knowledge. Additionally, academic psychology focuses on how men, women, and children monitor their thoughts. These two branches of psychology easily relate for both often concentrate on the development of thought and knowledge in the human mind. [9]

Important Figures

Ulric Neisser

Ulric Neisser (1928-2012) first coined the term "cognitive psychology" in his book, Cognitive Psychology, published in 1967. Within this book, Neisser defined this new branch of psychology as containing ". . . 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." [10] This revolutionary book did much to popularize the field and aided its expansion. Neisser's writing met immediate success, for many emphasized with his view and appreciated his findings. Additionally, the author positioned his book as an opposition to behaviorism, a popular field of study during the time. He viewed behaviorism as based on false assumptions and believed that cognitive psychology could develop into an enticing substitute. Neissan drew from many facets of psychology which attracted the support from varied types of psychologists. His theory united a motley group of professionals, which allowed for this new field of study to gain momentum. Over the course of his life, Ulric continued to publish books such as The Rising Curve: Long-Term Gains in IQ and Related Measures and John Dean's memory: A Case Study. This esteemed psychologist persisted in championing this branch of psychology for the entirety of his life. Because of Ulric Neissar's efforts, he is commonly heralded as "The Father of Cognitive Psychology." He died of Parkinson's Disease in 2012. [11]

Jean Piaget

Jean Piaget, cognitive psychologist during the early 20th century.

Jean Piaget (1896-1980), a Swiss psychologist, greatly supported the growing field of cognitive psychology due to his research in children's cognitive development. His groundbreaking findings generated much new interest in this field. He supported the idea that children thought differently than adults and dedicated his life to discovering how children's mental process grew and evolved as they aged. He proposed the theory of schemas, groups of sorted experiences and interactions which were placed into different mental categories. Piaget suggested the idea that children passed through four stages of intelligence: the sensorimotor stage, the preoperational stage, the concrete operational stage, and the formal operation stage. Additionally, Piaget's findings provoked interest in how human knowledge developed and the impact genetics and the environment had on the maturing of the human mind. This psychologist directed attention to once-neglected aspects of the study of the human mind and furthered the field of cognitive psychology. His theories are still studied to this day. [12]

William James

William James (1842-1910), often called the "Father of American Psychology," was an early advocate for the importance of studying psychology and it's influences in North America. He graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1869, then returned some years later to commence teaching psychology. During this time while teaching as a professor at Harvard, he published a number of books, such as The Principles of Psychology and Psychology: The Briefer Course. These two books became staple textbooks for psychology students during this era. James also established one of the original experimental psychology laboratories in the USA. Additionally, this psychologist heavily researched and supported the concepts of Pragmatism and Functionalism. His work lead to a greater understanding of the stream of consciousness. William James laid the early groundwork for cognitive psychology to take root and grow into it own prosperous field. [13]


The inner workings of the human brain. Second Video: The cognitive psychology revolution.


  1. Cherry, Kendra.What is Cognitive Psychology?. Web. Accessed 13 October 2013
  2. Cherry, Kendra.Jean Piaget Biography. Web. Accessed 13 October 2013.
  3. McLeod, Saul.Cognitive Psychology. simply psychology. Web. Published 2007.
  4. Cherry, Kendra.What is Cognitive Psychology?. Web. Accessed 13 October 2013.
  5. Unknown Author.Empirical. Web. Accessed 13 October 2013.
  6. Unknown Author.Cognitive Psychology. Web. Accessed 13 October 2013.
  7. Cherry, Kendra.What Is Social Psychology?. Web. Accessed 13 October 2013
  8. Cherry, Kendra.Developmental Psychology?. Web. Accessed 13 October 2013
  9. Cherry, Kendra.What is Educational Psychology?. Web. Accessed 7 November 2013
  10. Cherry, Kendra.What is Cognitive Psychology?. Web. Accessed 13 October 2013.
  11. Hymen, Ira.Remembering the Father of Cognitive Psychology. Psychological Science. Web. Published 2012.
  12. Cherry, Kendra.Jean Piaget Biography. Web. Accessed 13 October 2013.
  13. Cherry, Kendra.William James Biography(1842-1910). Web. Accessed 13 October 2013.