Set #1 (Lectures 2, 3, 4)
NTC sets can be picked up at the MPSA office (N7/8)
January 7 , 2010
Updated syllabus available on WebCT. This includes TA office hours. If you cannot go at
those times, try emailing them to set up appointments.
The link to the study guide works now.
Class recordings will not be posted. This issue is not open to debate. Do not email the
professor about this or ask her about this. There is information on WebCT about how to take
The class is still overbooked. Even though Minerva allows you to register without having
taken a pre-requisite, elementary knowledge of psychological terms and processes is
necessary (you are urged not to take this course if you do not have the proper pre-requisites).
The course reserve will be opened at the end of the add/drop period. The professor cannot
force anyone in.
(1) Firstly, what is cognitive psychology?
(2) We will then look at historical perspectives. How did we get here?
(3) We will then look at some of the approaches that cognitive psychology uses.
*Read Chapter 1
Chapter 1 begins by discussing how to define cognitive psychology. What is it? The chapter begins
by dissociating folk psychology and scientific psychology.
Folk psychology is the idea that we all as human beings have some sort of insight into what
cognition is. It is our knowing, our thinking.
Scientific psychology or scientific cognitive psychology is trying to operationalize that definition
so that we can actually study cognitive processes experimentally and scientifically.
A good start is to check out what the Oxford English Dictionary says. The most important definition: Cognition: is action of knowing, or faculty of knowing.
This short definition tells us two things:
1. It means that cognition is an active thing and a study of active processes.
2. Cognition is also a faculty. It is divided into different mental abilities. For example, we have
attention, perception, memory, decision-making, judgment, which are all faculties of cognition
and somehow all combine together to create the experience of cognition or knowing.
Cognition textbooks are usually divided along the lines of these faculties of cognitive science
and make you think that these faculties/processes are separate. Our textbook takes a different
approach: they try to integrate and point to links where these faculties interact. At the end of the
chapters there is a category called links (ex. how attention relates to memory, how intelligence
relates to perception, and so forth).
Some common questions that cognitive psychologists ask:
How do people perceive shapes/colour?
How do we remember certain things? Ex. Why do we all vividly remember September 11 ,
2001, but we have no idea what we ate for lunch yesterday?
How do we learn/produce language?
Why are people more afraid of airplanes than of driving cars?
As you can see from these examples, cognitive psychology is really concerned with low level
processes, high level processes as well as observed behavior.
Low-level process: (Student responses): something that is so automatic and basic that it doesnt
require consciousness. Something intuitive, the result of direct sensory input.
(Teacher): both of these are correct, but low-level processes are not necessarily unconscious,
although they can be. Typically, we think of sensory processing, the processing of incoming sensory stimuli.
High-level processes: (Student responses): conscious, deliberate thinking, memory.
(Teacher): Why do we call it higher? It presumes that some processing (low-level processing) has
already taken place. We typically think of it as things like consciousness or memory, things like
This distinction is often seen in cognitive psychology:
Bottom up: processes driven by sensory input, passive, automatic. You have no control over this, it
Top down: some effect of prior knowledge, of memories, of what have you on what is being
(We will come across this in perception.)
Study of cognition is concerned with both levels and their interaction and how they influence
Lets see this in an intuitive chart, to see what cognitive psychology is and what we measure. We
can represent people/agent/or our mind/organism in a box (that is us).
Left side: there are inputs coming at us, sensory stimuli, mechanical things that come at us.
On the other side we have the output.
The fundamental impression is what does the box in the middle do, and at what level does it
transform the input into the output? What does it do to create meaningful behaviour? We can
walk, talk, think and so on. This is how the teacher likes to think about cognition. Today we
will see something about what this box does and what it is. Is it the brain? The person? And
so on. What actually makes the transformation between external stimulation and observable