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What is Cognitive Psychology?. Broad Definition –empirical investigation of mental events and knowledge involved in recognizing an object, remembering a name, having an idea, understanding a sentence, and solving a problem

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what is cognitive psychology
What is Cognitive Psychology?
  • Broad Definition –empirical investigation of mental events and knowledge involved in recognizing an object, remembering a name, having an idea, understanding a sentence, and solving a problem
  • Specific Definition - the empirical investigation of mental processes and activities used in perceiving, remembering, and thinking, and the act of using those processes.
“Pay attention!”
    • Concept: Attention -- how we filter or select important information from the environment.
  • “I don’t know.”
    • Concept: Knowledge -- the store of general information and algorithms for performing tasks.
  • “I don’t remember.”
    • Concept: Memory -- a process for storing, retrieving and working with information.
  • “I can’t decide.”
    • Concept: Decision making – set of higher-level processes that work together allow us function day to day
history of cognitive psychology
History of Cognitive Psychology
  • Early history – Philosophical roots
    • Socrates – interested in the origins of knowledge
    • Aristotle – interested in origins of knowledge & memory
      • Proposed first theory of memory
    • Descartes – how is knowledge represented mentally
history of
History of
  • Recent history – Psychological roots
    • Wilhelm Wundt (1879)
      • First psychological laboratory in Leipzig, GE
        • Founder of psychology as a science
        • Many early psychologists had roots in Wundts lab
          • Produced over 200 Ph.D students in philosophy and psychology
      • Topic: Human cognition
        • Used introspection to report contents of consciousness
history of5
History of
  • Edward Titchner
    • Student of Wundts, taught at Cornell University in 1892
      • Proponent of introspection
      • Narrow view of psychology
        • Excluded mental illness, education apps., and social psych, b/c not open to introspection
        • Note: Method defined what was allowable science
      • Founder of Structuralism
        • Study of: Sensations, images, and feelings that were elements of the mind
      • Often argued with Wundt over findings
history of6
History of
  • Herman von Ebbinghaus
    • Contemporary of Wundt in GE
      • Big influence on cognitive psych.
      • Developed method for studying forgetting as function of time
        • Stimuli: lists of Consonant-Vowel-Consonant’s (CVC’s)
        • Method: Learn list of CVC’s, count number of trials to recall perfectly  Wait 2 days  re-learn list.
        • Savings score = # of trials to learn the 1st time - # of trials to learn 2nd time
      • One subject entire career – himself
      • Learned over 40,000 CVC’s
history of7
History of
  • William James
    • Wundt’s student, hired at Harvard
      • Philosopher, but started first American psych. lab
    • Proposed Functionalism
      • Stressed the functions over the mind rather than contents
        • How does mind adapt to new circumstances?
        • Proposed multicomponent memory system: Primary Memory vs. Secondary memory
      • Authored: Principles of Psychology, chapters on Sensation, perception, attention, consciousness, memory, reasoning
history of8
History of
  • Modern History
    • Human Performance (WWII)
      • Attention and perception,
        • training of solders to use radio and radar
      • Signal detection
        • Blips on radar or sonar
      • Information theory –
        • abstract method for analyzing information processing
history of9
History of
  • Artificial intelligence
    • How can we make computers behave intelligently?
    • Contributed host of concepts
      • Idea of study machine, allowed us to study our own processes
  • Linguistics
    • Interested language and language development
    • Contributed new mode of analyzing structure of language
emergence of cognitive psychology
Emergence of Cognitive Psychology
  • 1950’s – 1970’s, no agreed upon date
  • Ulric Neisser’s “Cognitive Psychology” text published in 1967
  • Why did Cog. Psyc emerge?
    • Two major factors
      • Dissatisfaction w/ behaviorism’s account of complex behavior (e.g., Chompsky’s new model of language)
      • Convergence of several other fields during WWII
        • Linguistics, Human performance, AI
contributors to cog psych
Contributors to Cog. Psych
  • Human Performance
    • Abstract way to analyze processing of info. (development of psychological tools!)
    • Research ideas in attention and perceptions
  • AI
    • Idea of computer as info. Processor
    • Computer model
    • Tool for studying cognition
    • Focus on complex processing (decision making, reasoning)
contributors to cog psych12
Contributors to Cog. Psych
  • Linguistics & Verbal learning
    • Questions about language and its complexity
    • Reason to reject behaviorism
      • Complexities of lang. Not handled by behaviorism
  • Philosophy
    • Age old questions about knowledge and Memory
  • Behaviorism
    • Strong empirical methods and laboratory research
  • Cog. Psych began with Wundt
    • Cognitive issues of mental states
    • But, introspection method not strong
      • Replication difficult, methodology determined acceptable sub-disciplines
      • These problems fueled behaviorist movement
  • Behaviorism was major paradigm from 1910’s to 1960’s
    • Focus shifted to overt behavior
      • Stimulus  response
      • Mind considered a black box, can’t study what you can’t see, hear, feel, or touch
    • Psychologists need reason to abandon behaviorism
      • Linguistic’s criticisms provided the stimulus
  • War time efforts - scientists from different fields came together for one purpose
    • Focus on attention and perception
    • Expansion of methodological toolboxes
      • Enabled Psychologist to go beyond S-R psych.
    • Idea of humans as “Active” info. Processors
      • Contrast with behaviorism – Organisms respond to environment
  • Invention of computer & focus on mental processes
  • Chompsky’s review of Skinner’s book on language
    • Illuminated inadequacies of behaviorism

Cognitive Psychology

  • Information processing approach – decomposition of mental processes
    • Multi-component memory system
  • Assumptions of Cog. Psych.
    • Mental processes exist
    • People are active information processors
    • Mental processes and structures can be revealed by time and accuracy measures

Info. Processing model

Short-term / Working




Overt Response




Long-term Memory





is concerned with

what goes on in here.


Component of Model

  • Sensory memory – input device
    • What info is sent to the processor
  • Short-term / Working memory
    • Central processor, actively processes info
  • Long-term memory / Knowledge
    • Library of programs, algorithms, data, and experiences that are stored for use
  • †Note similarities to computer!

Sternberg Paradigm

  • Test of how info is processed
  • Subjects (Ss) memorize list of digits
    • {4, 6, 5, 9, 3, 2}
  • Given recognition test
    • 9?
    • Yes/No
  • Measure both accuracy and reaction time (Msec.)
    • Some trials were false (8?)
    • Some were true (9?)
think in terms of memory system
Think in terms of Memory system!


















6, 9, 3, 2


Perceive Stimulus



Make decision

Generate response




Perceive Stimulus

Make decision

Generate response





What would happen if the search string were 6 items?

What would happen if degraded the probe?

What would happen if we biased the decision process?

Time to respond was linear function of size of search string
    • Each element added 38 msec to search time
  • Serial position did not matter!
    • Thus, search is exhaustive
  • Sternberg’s conclusion: Ss engaged in serial matching process