Chapter 1: Introduction to Cognitive Psychology
Cognitive Psychology : Studying the Mind
What is the Mind?
The mind creates and controls mental functions such as perception, attention,
memory, emotions, language, deciding, thinking, and reasoning. As a system it
creates representations of the world so that we can act within it to achieve our
Cognition the mental processes such as perception attention, memory, and so on which the
Saying the mind creates cognition and is important for functioning and survival tells us what the
mind does but not how it achieves what it does
Studying the Mind: Early Work in Cognitive Psychology
The Dutch physiologist Franciscus Donders, in 1868, 11 years before the founding of the first
laboratory of scientific psychology, did one of the 1 cognitive psychology experiments (“cognitive
psychology” was not coined until 1967).
Donders’ Pioneering Experiment: How Long Does It Take to Make a
Reaction time how long it takes to respond to presentation of a stimulus
Donders’ Reaction Time Experiment: consists of the (a) simple reaction time task and
(b) the choice reaction time task:
a) The participant pushes the J key when the light goes on
b) the participant pushes the J key if the left light goes on and the K key if the right light goes on
His purpose was to figure out the time it took to decide which key to press for the choice reaction
Simple reaction time reacting to the presence/absence of a single stimulus. The reaction
time is the time between the presentation of the stimulus and the behavioural response
Choice reaction time reacting to one or more stimuli
In his experiment the choice reaction time took onetenth of a second longer than simple reaction time. So his conclusion was that it only took onetenth of a second to decide which button to push.
Dondors’ experiment is important because it was one of the 1 cognitive psychology experiments
and shows the significance of studying the mind through mental responses.
Ebbinghaus’ Memory Experiment: What is the TimeCourse of Forgetting?
Ebbinghaus’ memory drum steps for measuring memory and forgetting:
a) Initial viewing going through the list of nonsense syllables for the first time.
b) Learning the list going through the list a number of times until each syllable can be correctly
predicted from the one before. The number of repetitions needed to learn the list is noted.
c) After a delay, the list is relearned. The number of repetitions needed to relearn the list is noted.
Savings method calculates the savings by subtracting the number of trials needed to learn
the list after a delay from the number of trials it took to learn the list the first time.
Savings score for each delay interval:
Savings = [(Initial repetitions)(Relearning repetitions)/Initial repetitions] x 100
Wundt’s Psychology Laboratory: Structuralism and Analytic Introspection
In 1879, Wilhelm Wundt founded the first laboratory of scientific psychology at the
university of Leipzig in Germany, with the goal of studying the mind scientifically.
Wundt’s approach, which dominated psychology in the late 1800s and early 1900s, was
According to structuralism, our overall experience is determined by combining basic
elements of experience the structuralists called sensations.
Analytic introspection: a technique in which trained participants described their
experiences and thought processes in response to stimuli.
William James: Principles of Psychology
William James, one of the early American psychologists (although not a student of Wundt’s), taught
Harvard’s first psychology course and made significant observations about the mind in his
textbook, Principles of Psychology (1890).
James observations were based not on the results of experiments, but on introspections about the
operation of his own mind.
Abandoning the Study of the Mind
Research in many early departments of psychology was conducted in the tradition of Wundt’s
laboratory, using analytic introspection to reveal hidden mental processes. Watson Found Behaviorism
John Watson founded an approach called behaviorism.
Watson became dissatisfied with the method of analytic introspection. His problems were: (1) it
produced extremely variable results from person to person, and (2) these results were difficult to
verify because they were interpreted in terms of invisible inner mental processes.
Watson’s goal was to eliminate the mind as a topic of study in psychology and replace it with the
study of directly observable behavior.
Watson’os most famous experiment was the “Little Albert experiment,” where Watson and Rosalie
Rayner (1920) subjected Albert a 9 montholdboy, to a loud noise every time a rat (which Albert
had originally liked) came close to the child.
Classical conditioning pairing one stimulus with another, previously neutral stimulus
causing changes in the response to the neutral stimulus.
Watson’s inspiration for his experiment was Ivan Pavlov’s research, begun in the 1890s, that
demonstrated classical conditioning in dogs (figure 1.6). Pavlov’s pairing of food (which made the
dog salivate) with a bell (the initially neutral stimulus) caused the dog to salivate to the sound of the
Skinner’s Operant Conditioning
Skinner introduced operant conditioning, which focused on how behavior is strengthened by
presentation of positive reinforcers, such as a shock or social rejection).
Setting the Stage for the Reemergence of the Mind in Psychology
Tolman, was a behaviorist because his focus was on measuring behavior. But in reality he was one
of the early cognitive psychologists, because he used behavior to infer mental processes.
Cognitive map a conception of the maze’s layout
About a decade after Tolman introduced the idea of cognitive maps, in 1957, B.F. Skinner published
a book called Verbal Behavior, which argued that children learn language through operant
In 1959, Noam Chomsky, a linguist, published a scathing review of Skinner’s book which
reintroduced the mind to psychology. He saw language development as being determined not by
imitation or reinforcement, but by an inborn biological program that holds across cultures.
Chomsky’s idea that language is a product of the way the mind is constructed, as opposed to being
caused by reinforcement, led psychologists to reconsider the idea that language and other complex
behaviors, such as problem solving and reasoning, can be explained by operant conditioning. The Rebirth of the Study of the Mind
The decade of the 1950s is generally recognized as the beginning of the cognitive revolution
a shift in psychology from the behaviorist’s stimulusresponse relationships to an approach whose
main thrust was to understand the operation of the mind.
Informationprocessing approach an approach that traces the sequence of mental
operations involved in cognition.
The digital computer inspired psychologists to think of the mind in terms of information processing.
Introduction of the Digital Computer
Flow Diagrams for Digital Computers: One of the characteristics of computers that
captured the attention of psychologists in the 1950s was that they processed information in stages
(figure 1.9). One of the first experiments influenced by this new way of thinking about the mind
involved studying how