(All excerpts on this page are from: IBO Diploma Programme, Psychology, For first examinations 2005)

Cognitive psychology is concerned with how people acquire, store, transform, use and communicate information. Following the influential and exciting conferences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the 1950s, there was an explosion of research into cognitive processes such as memory, language acquisition, attention, perception and problem solving. Cognitive psychologists rejected the behaviourist assumption that mental events or states were unsuitable for scientific study.

Developments in the fields of engineering, computer science and linguistics helped cognitive psychologists develop models showing how information could be efficiently represented, stored and transformed. They also provided analogies for cognitive psychologists to use when attempting to explain complex behaviours. More recently, development of brain-scanning techniques provided conceptual links between the cognitive and biological perspectives. Brainscanning techniques have also provided psychologists with the means to actually see the physiological processes within the brain that are associated with cognition.

Cognitive psychologists recognize that using computer analogies to explain human behaviour has limitations. This recognition has led to the development of alternative models and fields of inquiry. These include research areas such as social cognition and the development of cognitive based therapies.

brain2.pngDefinitions of cognition

Learning outcomes

Students should expect questions asking them to:
  1. describe and evaluate the four content topics as they relate to the cognitive perspective
  2. describe and evaluate theories and empirical studies within this perspective
  3. explain, where appropriate, how cultural, ethical, gender and methodological considerations may affect the interpretation of behaviour from a cognitive perspective
  4. compare theories, empirical studies and the four content topics of this perspective with those from other perspectives
  5. identify and explain the strengths and limitations of cognitive explanations of behaviour
  6. assess the extent to which concepts and models of information processing have helped in the understanding of cognitive processes
  7. assess claims that some research within this perspective lacks ecological validity, and be able to consider alternative research methods.

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Development and cultural contexts

Historical and cultural conditions that gave rise to the cognitive perspective
  • challenges to behaviourism (such as cognitive maps)
  • impact of the Second World War (such as the need to understand or predict cognitive processes)

Contribution of the cognitive perspective to the scientific study of behaviour
  • development of models and theories of cognition (such as perceptual processing)
  • insights into information processing (such as the working memory model)

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Key concepts

Assumptions on which key concepts are based
  1. Behavior can be explained in terms of how the mind operates - mental processes
  2. The mind can be compared to the way a computer processes information - inputting, storing, retrieving data - the assumption is that there is an information processing system which alters or transforms information (computer analogy is reductionist)
  3. mental processes can be studied scientifically through laboratory experiments
  4. relevance of explanations of non-human behaviour to humans
(similar to the learning approach in that it is also reductionist and experimental)

Evaluation of assumptions
  • comparison with other perspectives to explain strengths and limitations
  • empirical studies that support or challenge

Theoretical explanations of behaviour
  • Cognitive dissonance - how do the underlying attitudes of an individual impact on behavior and behavior change?
Use the Festinger study.

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Strengths and limitations of methods
  • ecological validity
Ethics and controversies of research
  • use of human participants for research
  • use of non-human animals for research

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Effectiveness (relative strengths and limitations) of the perspective in explaining psychological or social questions

Application of theories and findings of empirical studies from the cognitive perspective

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Page Index

Links to the key sections of this unit can be accessed via the content above.

Useful resources

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