Cognition: Chapter 1
- Cognitive psyschology is the scientific study of the acquisition, retention, & use of
We are beginning to see that “knowledge” is relevant to a huge range of concerns,
including our self-concept, our emotional adjustments to the world, or our ability to
understand a story we’ve read, or a conversation or an experience.
Therefore, cognitive psychology can help us understand capacities relevant to virtually
every moment of our lives. Our activities, our social lives, our emotions, etc. would all
collapse without the support of out cognitive functioning.
- “Cognitive revolution”: 1950s-60s, a change in the style of research used by most
- In the late 1800s Wundt & Titchener launched the new enterprise of research
psychology, defining their field & separating it from philosophy or biology
They believed the only way to study thoughts was for each individual to
introspect to observe & record the content of our own mental lives & the
sequance of our own experience. These introspectors were well-trained.
Later discovered that there are also unconscious processes that introspection
cannot retrieve. There must also be some way to test a science’s claims in order
for it to evolve. Introspection made it impossible for the claims to be tested.
- Psychology could not be a science, it was argued, if it relied on introspection. However,
behaviours & stimuli were considered observable & recordable, & thus my learning
history. Beliefs, wishes, goals, etc. were all considered necessary to avoid at the time,
because the only way to observe them was via introspection.
This perspective led to the behaviourist movement, which dominated psych in
America for the first half of the 1900s. Uncovered a range of principles.
- By the late 1950s, psychologists were convinced that much behaviour could not be
explained in these terms. People’s actions & feelings are actually guided by how they
understand/interpret the situation, not by the objective situation itself.
- A complete behaviourist psychology would be impossible (ex. something as simple as
asking someone to pass salt – each individual must understand the meaning of all of the
ways to ask for salt, even something this simple goes beyond observation)
The Roots of the Cognitive Revolution
- To explain/predict behaviour, we need to make reference to the mental world;
perceptions, understanding, & intentions. How people act is shaped by how they percieve
the situation, how they understand the stimuli, & so on.
- Solution: Kant’s transcendental method (or inference to best explanation) – begin with
the observable facts & work backwards from these observations, asking what underying
causes must be to lead to these effects. This is the heart of most modern science.
- We know that we need to study mental processes; that’s what we learned from the
limitations of behaviorism. But we also know that mental processes cannot be observed
directly; we learned that from the downfall of introspection. Our path forward, therefore, is to study mental processes indirectly, relying on the fact that these processes,
themselves invisible, have visible consequences.
Research in Cognitive Psychology
- Working memory: memory you use for information that you are actively working on;
holds information in an easily accessible form so that the information is instantly
Instant availability is promoted by working memory’s size: said to be quite small to
make it easier to access the information.
- A span test can be used to measure working memory capacity (4 letters, person must
repeat back, then 5 letters, repeat, & continue to increase).
When people make mistakes & say a letter than was never even said, they tend to
replace the letter with a similar sounding letter (F – S), even if the letters were given
- Baddeley & Hitch model: working memory is not a single entity, it is a working
memory system & at the heart is the central executive – the part that does the real work.
The executive is the only one who can analyze or interpret information, the low-level