Cognitive Psychology

The discipline of psychology evolved from the philosophical idea of dualism that maintained the mind and body operated independently of one another to create the human experience (Kowalski, 2011).  Psychology is the study of the mind and behavior through the study of brain functions, physical behaviors, and the environment (Kowalski, 2011). The relentless pursuit of psychologists trying to figure out how and why the mind functions as it does caused the development of cognitive psychology (Galotti, 2014).

Define Cognitive Psychology

Cognitive psychology is the study of higher mental processes concerning how individuals receive, process, and use information (Galotti, 2014). How memory works, the process of thought, and the process of perception are the key ideas of cognitive psychology (Galotti, 2014).  The development of cognitive psychology originated from the thoughts of functionalism and behaviorism in addition to the study of individual differences and the development of cognitive science.


William James founded functionalism originated research on why the mind functions.  He believed that a behavior was a portrayal of the functioning of the mind (Galotti, 2014).  Other functionalists believed that the mind allowed for adaptive behaviors and that habits change through avoidance of triggering stimuli (Galotti, 2014).  The major belief of functionalism was that in order for the study of behavior to be successful, one must study the behavior in the natural state of the environment (Galotti, 2014).Observation allows for the viewing of behavior without interference.  Although the study of functionalism relied solely on observation of the outward behavior, it implied that there was a function to behavior and researchers used this idea to delve into the internal study of behavior through the functions of the brain (Galotti).


Behaviorist’s primary focus is observable behavior than can be justly and scientifically measured without internal events being considered (McLeod, 2007).  John Watson, the founder of behaviorism, believed that individuals learn behavior from environment and behavior is not innate  (McLeod, 2007).. Edward Tolman took a different view on behaviorism with his rat and maze tests.  Tolman believed that the mind had to contain a mental map developed through cognition in order for a rat to memorize the track of the maze to obtain a goal of food (Galotti, 2014).

Freud’s psychodynamic approach criticized behaviorism because the unconscious mind and instincts receive no consideration, rather rejected forcing behavior to be seen solely as an observable study (McLeod, 2007).Biological psychologists criticisms include the absence of genetics being responsible for a behavior in addition to the environment (McLeod, 2007).Cognitive psychologists claim memory, thinking and process all relate to behavior as well (McLeod, 2007).

Study of Individual Differences

Sir Francis Galton took an individual approach to the study of the differences between individual cognitive ability (Galotti, 2014).  Galton was fascinated with the fact that intelligence varied among individuals.  He questioned the assistance of genetics in attaining certain levels of intelligence.  He set out to find the answer he was looking for through developing a series of tests for cognitive ability (Galotti, 2014).  Galton’s efforts assisted future psychologists to develop more cognitive tests, set up statistical analysis to calculate results, and leave a question to ponder:  What is the nature of cognitive abilities?

Cognitive Science

The cognitive revolution found its beginnings with the rejection of behaviorism based on the premise that theorists believed that a behavior could not occur without some mental representation (Galotti, 2014).  The establishment of human factors engineering in which physical and psychological characteristics are taken into account when designing a system for human use marked the beginning (Galotti, 2014).   Human factors engineering caused the development of person-machine systems in which cognitive ability and motivation combine into the equation labeling individuals as limited-capacity processors meaning an individual has limited cognitive ability (Galotti, 2014).

During this time, Noam Chomsky was studying language and realized how an individual attains, comprehends, and produces speech is vital to the understanding of language (Galotti, 2014).  He left the thought to future psychologists:   How is it possible for an individual to learn a large complicating language so easily, quickly, and with perfection?  Between the rules of language and the amount of information, it seemed difficult for such a limited capacity (Galotti, 2014).

During the revolution, localization of function was brought to light declaring that functions were localized to a certain area of the brain.  Research proved this theory to have some truth to it.  Donald Hebb found that some functions were built in a localized area over a period of time, which was later found through testing with kittens that there are some functions that only occur in certain areas of the brain such as visual content (Galotti, 2014).


The development of computers and artificial intelligence is the last leg of the development of cognitive science.  Computers caused the thought that the mind operates like a computer:  It must be fed information (Galotti, 2014).  Researchers began to compare the functions of the mind to the functions of a computerized machine.  A storage center is necessary in order for information to be retained and recalled.  A processing center must be available to change and make inferences based off previously attained information (Galotti, 2014).  Artificial intelligence is being designed based off the kinds of information humans can retain and how they process the information turning a human mind into a machine (Galotti, 2014).  All of this information led scientists to look at the representations of information, known as cognitive science.

Behavioral Observation

Behavioral observation is important in cognitive psychology because it allows researchers to see cognition occur naturally, not forced within the confines of a lab (Galotti, 2014).  Observation allows for testing of theories and hypotheses researchers develop.  Since observing internal mental processes is not possible, an inference can be made about a behavior based on the observation of the behavior.  Additionally, two aspects of behavior can be seen with one eye potentially to find a relationship between the two which allows for inference at the possibility of a change in one of the aspects (Galotti, 2014).  It is also vital to use observation in order to have a comparison for the unseen processes of behavior in order to establish any relationship between the conscious and unconscious aspect of the research (Galotti, 2014).


Cognitive psychology is a fairly new branch that has developed as psychology continues to evolve.  It has taken views from all aspects of psychology and included them to determine what and how does the brain make things happen.  Cognitive psychology opens a door of answers to questions that have been probing researchers for many years.




Galotti, K. M. (2014). Cognitive Psychology: In and Out of the Laboratory, (5th ed.). Retrieved from The University of Phoenix eBook Collection database

McLeod, S. A. (2007). Behaviorist Approach. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/behaviorism.html

Kowalski, R., & Westen, D. (2011). Psychology (6th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.



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