Chapter One: Introduction
The Scope of Cognitive Psychology
One way it can be defined is as the study of knowledge; how do we study, how do we focus our attention and
concentrate, how do we make decisions.
- Much larger range of thoughts, actions, feelings depend on our knowledge; what we know can influence how we
think; understanding a story or conversation depends on knowledge the reader already has.
- H.M. a patient with amnesia, provides additional examples how thoughts, actions and feelings depend on
knowledge; he was unable to form new memories, he could only know what he knew before the surgery;
without memory, there is no sense of self; H.M. had no sense of whether he was honourable or dishonest,
industrious or lazy.
A Brief History
- Wundt and his student Titchener began the study of experimental psychology in the late 1800s; it was separate
from biology and philosophy; the focus was on conscious mental events (feelings, thoughts, and emotions).
Introspection: process through which one “looks within” to observe and record the contents of one’s own mental life.
Problems – we now know that our mental activity is unconscious and not available to the method of introspection;
claims derived from introspection are subjective and not testable (people talking about themselves and cannot be
- The desire to be more scientific led to changes in psychology during the first half of the 20 century; focus was
switched to stimuli and behaviours that could be objectively studied; introspection and other “mentalistic”
approaches were avoided.
Behaviourism: uncovered principles of how behaviour changes in response to stimuli, such as rewards and punishments.
Problems – behaviour cannot be understood only in terms of stimuli and responses; behaviour also depends on things
like perception, understanding, interpretation and strategy.
Ex. passing salt; speech stimuli that are physically different from each other can result in the same response; speech
stimuli that are physically identical to each other can result in different responses; in both cases, it is the interpretation
of meaning that determines the response; it is never the physical words that create the behaviour, it’s the meaning and
From both of these concepts experimental psychologists learned that:
- Introspection methods for studying mental events are not scientific
- However, we need to study mental events in order to understand behaviour.
Cognitive psycologists study mental events indirectly; visible events are measured (stimu