Cognitive Psychology Definition

Subject: Psychology
Pages: 4
Words: 862
Reading time:
4 min
Study level: College

Cognitive psychology is branch of psychology that specifically studies the way people think, perceive, learn, remember and solve problems. From the definition, it is important to note that cognitive psychology is a very broad discipline that forms the core of cognitive science (Cacioppo, 2002). Information acquisition, processing and storage are the main focus areas of cognitive psychology and help a great deal in enhancing the learning process. Cognitive psychology tends to differ from other psychology disciplines in the sense that it allows the use of scientific methods in its investigations and at the same time acknowledges the fact that human beings have got internal mental states that need to be studied (Cacioppo, 2002). This paper will discuss the importance of cognitive psychology and the major milestones in its development as a discipline.

Behavioral observation is a very important aspect of cognitive psychology that has simplified the work of cognitive psychologists (Wickens, 2005). Behavior prediction has been a great challenge for cognitive psychologists and has been overcome by behavioral observation. The use of inferences and theories by cognitive psychologists helps them in behavior prediction. Direct observation of mental processes is not easy and therefore behavior observation helps cognitive psychologists to infer the existence of these mental processes (Wickens, 2005). The effect of observable manipulations on abstract concepts requires some designation and this is what makes behavior observation to be a very complex undertaking. Cognitive psychologists use behavior-observing experiments to determine the legitimacy of their predictions and inferences.

The relationship between behavior –observing variables and the abstract concepts is very important in cognitive psychology because it helps in the process of evaluating mental processes (Wickens, 2005). Unobservable abstract constructs that have an effect on observable behavior are normally used by cognitive psychologists in behavior prediction. Behavioral observation is a scientific process that uses experimental, relational and descriptive research in coming up with inferences and predictions (Cacioppo, 2002). Behavioral observation helps cognitive psychologists to come up with valid psychological theories that are based on observation and experimentation.

There are four key milestones in the development of cognitive psychology (Cacioppo, 2002). The crumbling of behaviorism is the first milestone in the development of the cognitive psychology discipline. Human language and abilities could not be explained using behaviorism because the concept was originally meant to observe animal behavior (Wickens, 2005). The need to determine what goes on in the mind of a human being has made cognitive psychologists to consider other aspects of the human psyche. Behaviorist observations can not be used to explain human abilities such as language. The fall of behaviorism is therefore a major milestone in the development of the cognitive psychology discipline (Wickens, 2005).

The use of a computer metaphor and information processing is another key milestone in cognitive psychology (Willingham, 2007). The similarities between a computer and the human mind are part of the foundations of cognitive psychology. The transfer of information into the human memory, language processes and information processing are very similar to the way a computer operates. Cognitive psychologists are now able to think in new a way that is more advanced and complex than the thinking that is based on behaviorist views. The computer metaphor has made cognitivists to liken the mind of a human being to a computer. The same way computer processes information to come with a particular output is the same way the human mind processes information to bring forth certain behaviors and reactions (Willingham, 2007).

The use of abstract constructs in artificial intelligence is another milestone in the cognitive psychology discipline (Willingham, 2007). Contemporary scientific processes are influenced in a great way by abstract constructs. The fact that a computer can be programmed to make decisions and solve problems like human beings represents a major milestone in cognitive psychology. Through artificial intelligence, it is now possible to influence the logic and behavior of computers using abstract strategies (Willingham, 2007). Cognitive psychologists are now in a better position to infer unobservable processes in the mind of human beings using abstract constructs.

Neuroscience is the fourth milestone in the development of cognitive psychology. The study of the mind using abstract constructs has been improved in recent times (Cacioppo, 2002). The brain structure and its function can be linked in a scientific manner and in the process be used to infer internal mental processes of human beings. This has taken cognitive psychology to the next level by disapproving the notion that studying behavior is the only scientific way of determining the internal mental processes of a human being (Cacioppo, 2002).

In conclusion, the human psyche is ambiguous and mysterious and it therefore requires scientific methods and techniques to understand it. Cognitive psychology uses both observable and unobservable behaviors to infer the internal mental processes of a human being (Willingham, 2007). Behaviorism was not able to explain and predict the functions of the human brain because it does not consider the use of unobservable behavior as scientific. The internal processes and drives of the human psyche can only be determined by cognitive psychology (Willingham, 2007). Cognitive psychology has made it possible for cognitivists to determine the unobservable behaviors of human beings with the use of reputable scientific methods.


Cacioppo, J. (2002). Social neuroscience: Understanding the pieces fosters understanding the whole and vice versa, American Psychologist, 57(11), 819-831.

Wickens, A. (2005). Foundations of Biopsychology. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice- Hall.

Willingham, D. (2007). Cognition: The thinking animal. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Allyn & Bacon.