what is cognitive psychology

What is Cognitive Psychology – A Detailed Beginner’s Guide!


If you are someone who takes interest in how people think at the psychological level, then cognitive psychology seems like something you would find fascinating.

Cognitive psychology covers several mental-related aspects such as language, perception of the environment, information processing, and thought process, among others.

In this detailed guide to cognitive psychology for beginners, we will have a deeper look at what this branch of psychology is all about, its origins, how it works, the benefits, its applications, and the commonly asked questions about it.

What is Cognitive Psychology

In the simplest words possible, cognitive psychology is a branch of psychology that deals with how we think and everything that happens inside our brains.

It includes memory, perception, problem-solving, thinking, consciousness, attention, learning, and language. These aspects play a crucial role in helping us determine and form our identity and behaviors (1).

Some experts also define cognitive psychology as the scientific study of how our brains absorb information from the external world around us and how they decode the information.

The field of cognitive psychology allows psychologists to understand the workings of the human brain properly. The knowledge helps them understand why various psychological issues occur, their possible causes, and how best to handle them.

Cognitive psychologists also aim to help improve brain function and prevent as well as treat brain-related health problems.

For instance, memory tends to decline as people age. Cognitive psychologists can help create long-term solutions to prevent memory decline and also optimize its performance in the long run.

History of Cognitive Psychology

Before cognitive psychology became a recognized branch of psychology, much of the research and focus was on behaviorism. It is the period around the 1950s to 1970s that brought about the cognitive revolution in the world of psychology.

The cognitive revolution involves the phase in which the focus on studying behavior shifted to the internal processes that happen within us which have a significant influence on our behaviors.

Here, psychologists and researchers directed their attention to various aspects of cognition such as language, thinking, memory, problem-solving, perception, and attention.

One of the notable figures that accelerated the development of cognitive psychology is Ulric Neisser, a German psychologist who is considered to be the father of cognitive psychology.

He shook up the field of psychology and influenced the cognitive revolution through his first book called “Cognitive Psychology (1967, Appleton-Century-Crofts).

After a while, he also published another book called “Cognition and Reality (1976, W. H. Freeman)” which provided a new way of perceiving psychology (2).

Another famous American psychologist that comes to mind when cognitive psychology is mentioned is George Miller.

He made a discovery of memory limitation in humans which insisted that short-term memory can only hold seven pieces (plus or minus two) of information (3).

Other people who contributed to the birth and development of cognitive psychology include Naom Chomsky, John Watson, Wilhelm Wundt, Hermann Ebbinghaus, and Fransiscus Donders.

How Cognitive Psychology Works

Cognitive psychology goes into many diverse aspects of the human brain. Researchers in the area tend to study a wide variety of topics to better comprehend the complex nature of the brain and how to use that knowledge to better its overall function.

Cognitive psychologists seek to understand ways we, as humans, can have better decision-making skills, how we can manage various brain-related disorders, and how we can optimize our learning processes and abilities, among other areas.

Let’s have a detailed look at the specific areas that cognitive psychologists specialize in:

* Memory – When it comes to memory, cognitive psychologists study how we form, accumulate, and retrieve memories. They also aim to understand the various types of memories including sensory memory, improving memory, short term memory, long term memory, and working memory. Essentially, the main factors that make memory count in our brains, what the exact causes for memory issues are, and how they can be solved.

* Language processing – Here, psychologists focus on the psychology behind reading, how we acquire and comprehend language, and language production. A branch of cognitive psychology called psycholinguistics helps us understand how the human brain decodes language, and how it parses sentences, words, and various language concepts.

* Perception – In perception, the main aspects studied include how we form interpretations of the information we gain from our environments. This involves processing modules like motion and form, and our senses (sight, hearing, smelling, hearing, and tasting). On top of that, different aspects of sensory stimuli and how everything plays out to create solid perceptions.

* Problem-solving – Here, psychologists study how we go after goal-based actions and behaviors. Problem-solving engages other aspects such as attention, perception, executive function, and memory, to name a few. Researchers focus on how each element contributes to the problem-solving process and the possible limitations and how they can be handled.

* Attention – Attention helps to determine which information to give more priority and process amidst plenty of diverse information in the environment. Areas of study here include ways attention impacts overall performance, how performance increases in regard to attention, the attention mechanisms, and how the brain responds to attention control.

* Reasoning – In cognitive psychology, how we make false conclusions on various topics, how we evaluate logical arguments using deduction and induction, and how some people avoid considering deduction in their reasoning approach are studied. Reasoning types are also given a keen eye and how they impact our brains, perceptions, and overall lives.

* Learning – Cognitive psychologists direct their attention to how we gain new information and the conditions necessary for that to happen. Also, they study the types of learning and how each impacts our ability to take in and store the new information we absorb. Some people have better learning abilities than others and psychology helps us understand why that is the case, and also how we can improve on that.

* Judgment and decision – The areas of focus for psychologists who specialize in judgment and decision include how judgment and choice affect implicit and explicit voluntary behavior, rational models and their risks, and dynamic systems analyses.

You’ll find cognitive psychologists in education and training centers, research centers, and health institutions.

They use their knowledge and experience to come with up better ways that we can all use to optimize our cognitive function and handle the challenges that come with various aspects of cognition at different points in our lives.

Simply put, cognitive psychologists aim to help us understand how our brains work, how they affect our behaviors, and how we can use that knowledge to better our brains’ performance and solve problems in our lives that arise in this area so we can lead better, healthier and happier lives.

Benefits of Cognitive Psychology

Cognitive psychology provides the benefit of helping us understand, appreciate and solve health problems relating to:

– Memory

– Attention

– Perception (visual and speech)

– Decision-based behavior

– Problem-solving

– Language acquisition

– Forgetfulness

– Information processing

It also helps us deal with emotional control, anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, trauma, academic abilities, autism spectrum disorder, personality disorders, relationship issues, and substance abuse.

Applications of Cognitive Psychology

Some of the places cognitive psychology offers a substantial positive impact is mental health. Over the years, research, experiments, and studies on cognitive psychology have helped uncover new effective solutions to mental health problems.

In the past decades, the common approaches to mental health issues were the humanistic approach (based on human dignity and values), the psychoanalytic approach (based on the unconscious mind), and the behavioral approach (based on thought and behaviors).

However, with the rise of cognitive psychology and its extensive research, there are now advanced treatment approaches like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

Medical experts that make use of cognitive treatment approaches are psychiatrists, counseling psychologists, and clinical psychologists.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Cognitive Psychology

Question: What are some of the health services offered by a cognitive psychologist?

Answer: Some of the health issues a cognitive psychologist can help with include brain trauma treatment, therapy for language or speech disorder, dementia and memory decline, sensory disorders, and cognitive therapy for mental health problems.

Question: What is an interesting fact about cognitive psychology?

Answer: A good example of an interesting fact in cognitive psychology is the discovery of short-term memory. It is far shorter than you might imagine.

If you are given some information you need to remember after 10 seconds, and then given the same amount of information that you should remember after 20 seconds, you will remember more information after 10 seconds than after 20 seconds. That is how short your short-term memory is.

Question: What is Cognitive Neuropsychology?

Answer: According to the American Psychological Association, cognitive neuropsychology is the study of the function and structure of the brain and its relation to reasoning, perception, remembering, and other forms of awareness and knowledge. It aims to understand how normal cognition works by studying patients who struggle with brain injuries (4).

Question: What is Cognitive Neuroscience?

Answer: Also called Neurocognition, cognitive neuroscience is the scientific study of the specific neural mechanisms that mental processes work with, in the brain.

Question: What is Computational Cognitive Science?

Answer: This is the use of computational models to comprehend and test the understanding of human cognition.

Question: What is the difference between behaviorism and cognitive psychology?

Answer: Behaviorism is a learning approach that insists that all behaviors gained by humans are only through conditioning processes such as association. Cognitive psychology, on the other hand, looks at how we think and how thinking affects our behaviors.

Question: What are some cool experiments in cognitive psychology research?

Answer: The 3 exciting experiments are the cocktail party phenomenon, Free will, and Magic and Misdirection.

Question: How do I become a cognitive psychologist?

Answer: A bachelor’s degree in cognitive psychology can allow you to do entry-level jobs but a master’s and doctorate degree in the same open more opportunities.

With a master’s degree, you can work as a human performance researcher, in organizational and industrial psychology, or as a teacher (in some cases). With a doctorate degree, you can supervise the work done by master’s degree graduates and also conduct research and teach.


4 thoughts on “What is Cognitive Psychology – A Detailed Beginner’s Guide!

  1. pasindu dimanka says:

    Thank you very much for this valuable comprehensive cognitive psychology post. I really like posts like this. There was a lot I didn’t know about this post. I just found out today that our short-term memory is from this. It solves our problems and does almost everything with this. Keep posting like this. I will definitely share this.

    1. Improve Your Brain Power Team says:

      Thanks, Pasindu. 🙂

      We appreciate your encouraging words.

      We are also grateful you found the post so insightful that you shared it.

      All the best.


      The IYBP Team

  2. This is so interesting! I’ve always loved psychology but have never really put in the time or effort to study it. I think it’s fascinating that George Miller discovered that we have a limitation to what we can remember in the short-term. This article was informative, interesting, and kept me engaged the whole time. Keep posting! This was great. 

    1. Improve Your Brain Power Team says:

      Hi there Jordan, 

      Thanks for stopping by and for sharing your thoughts on the piece.

      We appreciate the kind words. 🙂

      We encourage you to really pursue psychology if you love it.

      It is a really interesting field and you will find it quite fascinating. 🙂

      All the best.


      The IYBP Team

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