Cognitive psychology

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Cognitive psychology is the psychological science which studies cognition, the mental processes that are hypothesised to underlie behavior. This covers a broad range of research domains, examining questions about the workings of memory, attention, perception, knowledge representation, reasoning, creativity and problem solving. The term came into use with the publication of the book Cognitive Psychology by Ulric Neisser in 1967. There he gives a very broad definition of cognitive psychology, emphasising that it is a point of view which postulates the mind as having a certain conceptual structure, thus giving the discipline scope to study more than the higher-level concepts such as "reasoning" that modern books often enumerate in an attempt to give a definition. 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.

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 like plushware running on the computer that is the brain. Theories commonly refer to forms of input, representation, computation or processing, and outputs.

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, abnormal psychology, developmental psychology; the application of cognitive theories in comparative psychology has led to many recent studies in animal cognition.

The information processing approach to cognitive functioning is currently being questioned by new approaches in psychology, such as dynamical systems, and the embodiment perspective.

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 while excluding other stimuli from consideration)
  • Pattern recognition (the ability to correctly interpret ambiguous sensory information)


Knowledge representation



Famous cognitive psychologists

See also

Related lists

External links

ca:Psicologia cognitiva da:Kognitionspsykologi de:Kognitionspsychologie es:Psicología cognitiva fr:Psychologie cognitive hr:Kognitivna psihologija it:Psicologia cognitiva he:פסיכולוגיה קוגניטיבית nl:Cognitieve psychologie ja:認知心理学 pl:Psychologia poznawcza pt:Psicologia cognitiva ru:Когнитивная психология sk:Poznávacia psychológia sl:Kognitivna psihologija fi:Kognitiivinen psykologia sv:Kognitiv psykologi uk:Когнітивна психологія zh:認知心理學