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PSY270H1 Lecture Notes - Cognitive Revolution, Behaviorism, Hermann Von Helmholtz

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Gillian Rowe

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What is "Cognition"?
Cognition is the mental processes that are involved in perception, attention, memory, problem
solving, reasoning and making decisions.
Cognitive psychology is the study of “how people perceive, learn, remember, and think about
“Cognitive psychology refers to all processes by which the sensory input is transformed,
reduced, elaborated, stored, recovered, and used” (Neisser, 1967)
Cognition is the "backstage" activity of our life.
The first cognitive psychologists
The first research began in the 19th century.
Germany’s diverse intellectual climate provided the setting for emergence of psychology.
Wilhelm Wundt launched psychology as an independent discipline, became “first” psychologist.
There was a lab established in 1879. But before that ...
Franciscus Donders: Dutch physiologist who performed the first cognitive psychology
experiments. Today the phenomenon he studied would be called mental chronometry which is
the measure of how long a cognitive process takes. He wanted to know how long it took
someone to make a decision and measured it using reaction time. This is the measure of the
interval between the presentation of stimulus and the participant's response to it. His experiment
showed us that mental responses cannot be measured directly but only through behaviour.
There is simple reaction time where there is only one location for the stimulus to appear
and a choice reaction time where there is a multitude of areas the stimuli could appear in.
Choice reaction time, logically, should take time due to the decision making process. Donders
thought that if you subtract the two numbers you will get a number that represents the amount of
time it takes to make a decision.
Hermann von Helmholtz: Was a professor of physics at the University of Berlin. His
research on perception lead him to create the theory of unconscious inference. This theory
purports that our perceptions are due to unconscious assumptions made in regards to our
environment. These assumptions are driven by experiences with similar situations and occur with
no conscious effort.
Hermann Ebbinghaus: Did experiments on memory by learning lists of random
syllables (DAX, FBI, etc) and measuring how long it took to repeat the syllables without any
errors. He varied the amount of time he practiced remembering and recalling the syllables. With
that information he plotted a forgetting curve which showed memory as a function of retention.
He showed us a way to quantify memory.
*Notice that each of these early psychologists measure behaviour in order to learn something
about the mind*
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