Saturday, June 15, 2013

Cognitive Psychology Definition

          Psychology is the study of the mind. The movement of psychology toward behaviorism moved from the study of the mind toward the study of behavior. Although behaviorism had flaws, therefore the development of cognitive psychology occurred because of the argument against behaviorism. Behaviorism only focused on observable behaviors but cognitive psychology more so concentrated on internal mental states. Cognitive psychology, unlike behaviorism is more relatable to other disciplines, such as philosophy, neuroscience, and linguistics. Cognitive psychology greatly set itself apart from behaviorism, and with its development psychology was again brought back to the study of the mind.
Defining Cognitive Psychology
          The study of mental processes is cognitive psychology. The emphasized mental processes include perceiving, thinking, believing, problem solving, remembering, speaking, decision making, learning, and reasoning. It uses scientific research methods in studying mental processes. Simply put, cognitive psychology is a scientific approach to studying the mind. Cognitive psychology focuses on how an individual acquires, processes, and stores information, and it studies how individuals view and understand the world around him or her. It also tries identifying behavior through characteristics other than its obvious properties (Willingham, 2007). The rise of cognitive psychology was in response to the flaws in other methods of studying the mind.
Key Milestones in the Development of Cognitive Psychology
          One key milestone was neuroscience. Neuroscience can examine how the brain and the nervous system determine behaviors. Neuroscientists can account for intelligent behavior through the use of abstract constructs, hypothetical representations, and processes (Willingham, 2007). Neuroscientist also established definitive links between structures of the brain and functioning (Willingham, 2007). Through neuroscience, cognitive psychologist use techniques of localization in identifying brain areas that enable functioning (Willingham, 2007). The research of neuroscientists enables the understanding of states of consciousness, sensory experiences, emotion, motivation, development through life spans, and psychological, and physical health.
Information Processing Model
            Information processing model, another key milestone is an approach for studying the human mind (Willingham, 2007). Cognitive psychologists use this model as a framework to describe and explain mental processes. This model likens the thinking process of humans to how computers work. The human mind is similar to that of a computer, therefore it takes in information, stores, and organizes it in order for its retrieval later. In humans the sensory register, composed of sensory organs, such as the ears and eyes and the ears inputs information (Kowalski & Westen, 2011).  Then short-term memory stores information for retrieval later or transfers it to long-term memory. In humans the display of information processing is through behaviors. This processing of information supports behavior and human thought (Willingham, 2007).
Criticisms of Behaviorism
            The criticisms of behaviorism, is another key milestone. Behaviorism could not answer many questions, explain different aspects, or account for different human processes that cognitive psychology could. Behaviorists focused mainly on observable behaviors and almost disregarded the importance of genetics, unlike cognitive psychology. Behaviorism could not give a reason to explain internal mental processes or intrinsic drives. Behaviorism could not account for human language. Behaviorism mainly observed animal behaviors and could not explain the behaviors of humans, nor could these observations explain different abilities, such as reasoning and thinking. Behaviorism explained that repetition or reward was how behavior occurred but could not answer why behavior occurred without repetition or reward. The development of cognitive psychology occurred because of the criticisms of behaviorism.
The Importance of Behavioral Observation in Cognitive Psychology
            Behavioral observations are a key component of cognitive psychology. Behavioral observations give cognitive psychologists a means of testing and evaluating theories about behaviors and a means of testing any predictions about those behaviors. A cognitive psychologist cannot observe mental processes directly; therefore behavioral observations allow one to derive logical conclusions of their existence based on observable behaviors. Behavioral observations enable different types of behavioral research methods to help and serve the needs of cognitive psychology in testing theories, which include descriptive, relational, and experimental research. Descriptive research is an individual’s description of behavior collected by naturalistic observation, self – report or case studies (Willingham, 2007). Willingham (2007), “relational research examines two or more aspects of the world with an eye to seeing whether they are related” (p. 44).
Experimental research is similar to relational research of measuring if two factors have any relation to each other but change occurs with one factor so that one can observe the effect of that change on the other factor (Willingham, 2007).  Descriptive, relational, and experimental research methods experiment with variables, find relational factors, and use observation in providing psychological theories their valid foundations. Behavioral observations permit for less errors and mistakes of interpreting mental processes and behaviors.
            Simply put, cognitive psychology is a means of studying the mind. Several milestones occurred in the development of cognitive psychology, such as neuroscience, the information processing model, and criticisms of behaviorism. Cognitive psychology derived from the criticisms and flaws of behaviorism. The focus of behaviorism is on observable behaviors, although cognitive psychology became a means to studying mental processes. Cognitive psychology can answer the questions behaviorism could not provide. Behavioral observations are key factors in cognitive psychology, help with interpreting mental processes and behaviors. Through studying mental processes cognitive psychologist expanded psychology through observations and beyond observations.

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

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