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Contemporary Issues. The Cognitive Approach. Aidan Sammons. ‘Students should be able to…explain one contemporary issue or debate using terminology or ideas drawn from the cognitive approach’. Edexcel AS Psychology Specification. Identify key concepts from the approach

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contemporary issues

Contemporary Issues

The Cognitive Approach

Aidan Sammons

contemporary issues2
‘Students should be able to…explain one contemporary issue or debate using terminology or ideas drawn from the cognitive approach’.

Edexcel AS Psychology Specification

Identify key concepts from the approach

Be able to explain them

Be able to apply them to real world situations or problems

Contemporary Issues
cognitive concepts
Cognitive Concepts
  • Information processing
  • Schema driven processing
  • Reconstructive memory
  • False memory syndrome
information processing




Information Processing


input processes










Input Processes




Output Processes



  • Screen
  • Projector
  • Printer
  • Loudspeaker
  • Behaviour
  • Speech
human information processing




Human Information Processing


cognitive processes


Cognitive Processes


interpreting incoming sensory information


selecting information for further processing


sorting, combining, modifying information

the importance of memory
The Importance of Memory
  • Not just a store for information
  • Influences what is selected
  • How it is interpreted
  • Actively involved in all aspects of cognition
limits of the computer metaphor
Processes information passively

Nonsense in, nonsense out

Processes information actively

Tries to make sense of information

Nonsense in, sense out

Limits of the Computer Metaphor



computer information processing
Computer Information Processing


Can you wreck a nice beach?

schema driven processing
Schema Driven Processing
  • Knowledge is organised into schemas
  • Schemas allow us to make sense of information
  • Making sense of information can distort it
schema driven processing14





‘Turf cutter’

Schema Driven Processing

Bartlett (1932)

reconstructive memories
Reconstructive Memories
  • Schemas are used to reconstruct memories
  • We attempt to recall things so they make as much sense as possible
  • Biases, errors and alterations in schemas can result in distortions of memory
reconstructive errors
Reconstructive Errors
  • Loftus conducted research in which people were deliberately misinformed about what they had seen
  • She showed that it was possible to alter people’s memories
key cognitive ideas
Key Cognitive Ideas
  • The mind is compared to a computer, with inputs, processes and outputs
  • Unlike a computer, the mind is both active and selective in the way it processes information
  • Schemas are used to interpret experiences and reconstruct memories
  • Alterations and biases in schemas can affect the accuracy of memory
alien abduction

Alien Abduction

The Truth Is In There

alien abduction experiences
Alien Abduction Experiences
  • Abduction occurs at night
  • Abductee is conscious but immobilised
  • Aliens carry out medical investigation
  • Elements of sexual molestation
three possibilities
Three Possibilities
  • ‘Abductees’ have really been kidnapped by aliens.
  • ‘Abductees’ are lying.
  • ‘Abductees’ believe themselves to have been kidnapped by aliens when they actually haven’t.
occam s razor
Occam’s Razor

‘When two competing theories purport to explain the same phenomenon, in the absence of evidence, prefer the simpler one’

mcnally 2003
McNally (2003)
  • Tested abductees’ physiological responses to hearing about trauma.
  • Increased heart rate, sweating etc.
  • Same responses as combat veterans, car crash survivors victims of violent crime.
  • Abductees are genuinely traumatised.
abductee stories
Abductee Stories
  • Abductees have probably not been kidnapped by aliens
  • They do not appear to be lying
  • Therefore, it is possible that they have constructed false memories of alien abduction
creating false memories
Creating False Memories
  • Requires a person to believe that something happened, when it did not.
  • This understanding becomes part of that person’s schematic understanding.
  • As a result, they may spontaneously ‘recall’ a memory that is actually false.
loftus pickrell 1995
Loftus & Pickrell (1995)
  • PPs’ relatives interviewed to help construct a plausible story about getting lost on a shopping trip
  • PPs interviewed (twice) and asked to recall additional information about the event
loftus pickrell 199526
Loftus & Pickrell (1995)
  • With repeated discussion, the ‘memory’ was accepted as true by some of the PPs
  • 7 out of 24 accepted the memory and were able to ‘recall’ additional information
loftus 2001
Loftus (2001)
  • PPs shown fake advert of Bugs Bunny at Disneyland
  • Asked if they remembered meeting ‘Bugs’ on childhood visits to Disneyland
  • 35% reported doing so
  • Impossible, because Bugs Bunny is a Warner Bros character
characteristics of abductees
Characteristics of Abductees
  • Pre-existing ‘New Age’ beliefs (astral projection, tarot cards etc.)
  • Score highly on measures of fantasy/absorption
  • Episodes of sleep paralysis

McNally (2003)

sleep paralysis
Sleep Paralysis
  • Occurs on waking from REM sleep
  • Body remains paralysed after waking
  • 30% of population experience it at some time
  • 5% of people also experience hypnopopic hallucinations
  • They continue dreaming, despite being awake
alien abduction memories

Frightening experience of sleep paralysis

Attempt to make sense of experience

Prior belief in alien abduction (schemas)

Input from other believers & ‘abductees’

Alien Abduction Memories

Construction of alien abduction memory

McNally (2003)

alien abduction memories31
Alien Abduction Memories
  • The person experiences sleep paralysis
  • They also experience hypnopopic hallucinations
  • They are motivated to make sense of a frightening experience
  • To do so, they draw on schematic ideas of alien abductions
alien abduction memories32
Alien Abduction Memories

Or are they?

  • Contact with other ‘abductees’ reinforces their belief in the experience and encourages the development of detail in the memory
  • In some cases, therapists facilitate this process.
  • The resulting memory is real enough to cause trauma, even though it does not correspond to real events.
  • Alien abduction experiences are an example of false memory syndrome