Cognitive Psychology

What Is Cognitive Psychology?

Cognitive psychology and its more inclusive partner, cognitive science, exert a strong influence on psychology Opens in new window as a whole and promise a scientific understanding of the human mind in all its complexity and significance.

Simply defined, Cognitive psychology is a component of cognitive science involved in the study of the mental processes that affect people’s behavior. Its discoveries beckon in understanding how humans perceive, remember, imagine, think, and create.

Cognitive psychology is only one of the cognitive sciences. Others include behavioral and cognitive neuroscience, cognitive anthropology, and computer science.

Cognitive psychology gets to know an individual’s mental processes such as their attention, language use, memory, emotion, perception, creativity, and problem solving.

Cognitive psychologists study these processes and their effects on how people think, feel, and behave. The core processes studied are things like perception, attention, language, memory, and thinking.

Cognitive psychologists are therefore interested in the processes that occur from the time someone experiences something (a stimulus) until there is a response.

They ask such salient questions as:

  • How is knowledge represented?
  • How does an individual acquire new knowledge?
  • How do people process information?
  • How do we remember things?
  • How does the visual system organize sensory experiences into meaningful objects and events?
  • How does memory work?
  • How do different people perceive the world around them? How do they perceive color or shapes? Particularly, in criminology and criminal justice, they might want to understand how people perceive what they witness at a crime scene and why one eye-witness account may differ from another.

Cognitive psychology often portrays the human mind as first a processor of information: the mind computes answers to problems in a manner analogous to that used by computer software.

A digital computer represents an arithmetic problem, such as 21 + 14, in a symbolic code of “zeros” and “ones” according to an agreed convention.

Specifically, each digit is represented by eight bits of information, where each bit takes the value of either “zero” or “one”.

Then, a software program processes those symbols according to the rules of addition, yielding the correct answer, 35.

Similarly, as you read this problem and verified the answer, your mind interpreted the numbers and processed the information. The analogy between mental processes and computation has proved fruitful and provides what is called the information-processing approach to cognitive psychology.