Cognitive psychology as a discipline has come of age. It is defined as the study of human mental processes and their role in thinking, feeling, and behaving. Other broad categories of cognitive psychology study include; memory, perception, comprehension, and production of language, acquisition of knowledge and expertise, decision making, and reasoning (Kellogg, 2002). Behavioral observation or experimentation lies at the center of cognitive psychology study.
However, computer simulations and mathematical roles play a major role in modern cognitive psychology. Behavioral observation is used by cognitive psychologists to measure behavior in experiments so as to reach conclusions about covert mental processes (Willingham, 2008). This paper identifies introspective psychology, behaviorism, information processing, and language as the key milestones in the development of cognitive psychology. It also discusses the importance of behavioral observation in cognitive psychology.
During this century, it seems cognitive psychology as a discipline began with the formation or advent of introspective psychology. Later, introspective psychology faded and transformed during the rise of behavioral psychology. The concepts of cognitive psychology as a discipline traces back as far as human thought. Introspective psychology formed a good part of philosophical psychology during the 19th Century. It encompassed the study of important faculties of the mind.
The well-known proponent of this study was Wilhelm Wundt. Wundt founded what he referred to as the “new Psychology” of the laboratory where he stressed that it was impossible to study experimentally cognitive states such as; memory, thoughts, reason, and judgment. He advocated for the examination of the mind products together with laws, language, and folktales for study instead (Kellogg, 2002).
Other proponents such as James William, Edward Titchener, and Oswald Kuelpe thought differently. They linked the processes of cognition with thinking and feeling as broad concepts of cognitive psychology. They also disputed Wundt’s notion that in introspective psychological analysis, observation of higher mental processes is impossible. In 1901, a series of experiments were conducted by Kuelpe and his students researching higher mental processes through the introspection technique. After assessing the study results, they suggested an imageless thought concept (Willingham, 2001).
Observable Behaviorism and Importance its in Cognitive Psychology
Given the diverse mistrust of introspective psychology, it surprised no one that some cognitive psychology proponents launched for an alternative. In 1913, john B. Watson launched behaviorism with his paper “psychology as the Behaviorists view”. Watson’s paper was an effort of forming pure objective psychology. His reaction to the problems encountered in introspective psychology and consciousness was to disregard them. Watson envisioned an objective cognitive psychology discipline based on a description of observable repeatable behavior. Physiologist Ivan Pavlov was a well-recognized figure during Watson’s time.
Pavlov had received a Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1904 for his work on digestion and later concentrated on the development of what became commonly referred to as classical conditioning. His work on the learned and conditioning reflex indicated that purely objective measures of glandular secretions and muscle movements could be studied successively instead of the subjective measures of introspection. Pavlov’s work was much favorable to Watson who found introspection with human subjects unfavorable and preferred animal subjects for biological research (Kellogg, 2002).
Watson pursued the science of behavioral science as opposed to a science of mental life. He tried to translate the mental contents and processes of the structuralists and functionalists into behavioral terms. The direction of psychology was profoundly influenced by observable behaviorism. From the 1920s to the mid-1950s, behaviorism was the dominant approach in the study of psychology. Clark Hull’s mathematical learning theory enhanced the cause of behaviorism by sticking to the objective measurement and theoretical development (Kellogg, 2002). Hull envisioned developing behavioral models expressed as mathematical equations.
He believed that machines could learn and think, and in 1929, he set out the process of making them. To date, this idea is well on going and live. B.F Skinner was by far, the most influential in the field of behavioral psychology. Through his works of observing animal behavior in 1938, to verbal behavior in 1957, and beyond freedom done in 1971, Skinner stressed the principles of operant conditioning and their possible application to societal problems (Sternberg, 2008).
Cognitive psychology as a discipline became a relatively coherent and organized discipline in the second half of the century. However, it is not clear exactly when cognitive psychology as a discipline became organized. It is believed it started in 1948 when Karl Lashley delivered a paper on the requirement of psychology to have a science of cognition. The emphasis of his theory was on language. Other authors believe that cognitive psychology that was more structured was extracted from a symposium conducted at the University of Colorado in 1955. A book entitled “Contemporary Approaches to Cognition” was written (Sternberg, 2008).
Another milestone that marked the continued development of cognitive movement was the work published in 1915 by Jerome Bruner, Jacqueline Goodnow, and George Austin referred to as “A Study in Thinking” (Willingham, 2001).
They described the processes of cognition as means by which organisms can get, retain, and transform information. Other developments of the cognitive psychology movement are attributed to Norbert Weiner’s book “Cybernetics: Or Control in Communications in the Animals and Machines” written in 1948. Cognitive psychology was a discipline or subject matter by 1967 despite the unclear origin. It was this year (1967) that “Cognitive Psychology” was published by Ulrich Neisser as a landmark puling together related literature in the area that was wide-ranging (Kellogg, 2002).
Following the key milestones in the development of cognitive psychology as a discipline, numerous and complex research and movements are still ongoing. There is no telling whether the cognitive psychology field will remain part of psychology proper or it will split into another independent discipline.
Kellogg, R. (2002). Cognitive Psychology. Brownville, NE: Sage Publishers.
Sternberg, R. (2008). Cognitive Psychology. New York: Wadsworth.
Willingham, D. (2001). Cogntion. New York: Prentice Hall.