Chapter 1: Introduction to Cognitive Psychology
Cognitive Psychology: the branch of psychology concerned with the scientific study of the mind
Cognitive Psychology: Studying the Mind
The “mind”, like other concepts in psychology (i.e. “intelligence” and “emotion”), can be thought of in a number
of different ways.
What is the mind?
1) The mind creates and controls mental functions such as perception, attention, memory, emotions,
language, deciding, thinking, and reasoning (this definition indicates different types of cognition).
2) The mind is a system that creates representations of the world so that we can act within it to achieve our
goals (this definition indicates something about how the mind operates (creates representations) and its
function (enables us to act and to achieve our goals)).
Studying the Mind: Early Work in Cognitive Psychology
The idea that the mind can be studied scientifically is a modern one; in the 1800s, ideas about the mind were
dominated by the belief that it is not possible to study the mind as…
1) …the mind cannot study itself.
2) …its properties simply cannot be measured.
Donders’s Pioneering Experiment: How Long Does It Take to Make a Decision?
o One of the first cognitive psychology experiments
o Interested in determining how long it takes for a person to make a decision
o Measured reaction time – how long it takes to respond to presentation of a stimulus
o First part of experiment: asked participants to press a button upon presentation of a light (simple reaction
o Second part of experiment: asked participants to press the right button upon presentation of a light which
came from either the left or the right side (choice reaction time task)
o Donders reasoned that the choice reaction time task would take longer than the simple reaction time task
because of the additional time it takes to make the decision (concluded that time to be 1/10 of a second by
subtracting the simple reaction time from the choice reaction time).
o This experiment illustrates that mental responses cannot be directly measured but must be inferred from
the reaction times of behavioural responses.
Ebbinghaus’s Memory Experiment: What Is the Time-Course of Forgetting?
o Interested in determining how information that is learned is lost over time
o Presented himself with non-sense syllables (so that his memory would not be influenced by meaning of a
particular word) in different ways and recorded the number of trials it took to remember all syllables
o After delays ranging from immediately to 31 days, he relearned the words and recorded the number of
trials it took to remember all syllables without error.
o Analyzed results through the savings method
Savings = [(Initial repetitions) – (Relearned repetitions) / Initial repetitions] x 100 o Ebbinghaus’s “savings curve” indicates that memory drops rapidly for the first 2 days after the initial
learning and then levels off.
o Also used behaviour to determine a property of the mind
Wundt’s Psychology Laboratory: Structuralism and Analytic Introspection
o Structuralism: our overall experience is determined by combining basic elements of experience
(“sensations”) – “periodic table of the mind”
o Analytic introspection: technique in which trained participants described their experiences and thought
processes in response to stimuli
William James: Principles of Psychology
o James’s observations were based not on results of experiments, but on introspections about the operation
of his own mind.
Abandoning the Study of the Mind
Watson Found Behaviourism
Watson became dissatisfied with the method of analytic introspection because…
1) …it produced extremely variable results from person to person.
2) …these results were difficult to verify because they were interpreted in terms of invisible inner mental
Behaviourism: observable behaviour, not consciousness (which would involve unobservable processes such as
thinking, emotions, and reasoning), is the main topic of study
The focus shifted from the mind as the topic of study to behaviour (“What is the relation between stimuli in the
environment and behaviour?”).
Watson’s famous “Little Albert experiment” is associated with classical conditioning – pairing one stimulus (such
as loud noise presented to Albert) with another, previously neutral, stimulus (such as the rat) causes changes in
the response to the neutral stimulus (inspiration: Ivan Pavlov’s research).
Watson used classical conditioning to argue that behaviour can be analyzed without any reference to the mind.
Skinner’s Operant Conditioning