What is Cognitive Psychology?

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Cognitive psychology is a point of view in psychology with its own specific journals, researchers, and research programmes. Contrast with other domains in psychology: biological psychology, clinical psychology, educational psychology, evolutionary psychology, experimental psychology, developmental psychology, social psychology, and linguistics. Contrast with other theoretical perspectives in psychology: behaviorism, dynamic psychology, introspectivism, Freudian psychology, and pop psychology.

Cognitive psychology studies how streams of sensory data influence and produce a person's strengths and weaknesses in every day judgments.
Cognitive psychology studies how streams of sensory data influence and produce a person's strengths and weaknesses in every day judgments.

The field of cognitive psychology is expansive, but generally starts by looking at how sensory input is transformed into beliefs and actions through the process of cognition. It has a reputation for being slightly more scientific than other areas of psychology, putting great emphasis on experimentation and verification, and the scientific method in general. Cognitive psychology, in contrast to pop psychology, explicitly dismisses anecdotal introspective evidence as a valid foundation for psychological theories.

Cognitive psychology is a point of view in psychology with its own specific journals, researchers, and research programmes.
Cognitive psychology is a point of view in psychology with its own specific journals, researchers, and research programmes.

The term "cognitive psychology" was coined by Ulric Neisser in 1967, in a book of the same name. It was a name given to an emerging point of view that bootstrapped off the computer metaphor to describe the human mind, without relying on it to the point of reducing the human mind to a computer. Like the rest of materialist science, cognitive psychology acknowledges that the mind is defined as what the brain does, and the brain is a purely physical system that operates (albeit complexly) within the constraints of natural law and the forces of cause and effect. This view is called causal functionalism or simply, functionalism.

Cognitive psychology focuses on digging up the "specs" of the human brain. It tracks how many items we can hold in memory simultaneously, how different streams of sensory data are blended to produce higher-level inferences, our strengths and weaknesses in judging probabilities in everyday situations, how knowledge is represented in the human mind and brain, the formation of conceptual categories, and many other fascinating research areas. Cognitive psychology is a big part of the interdisciplinary superfield of cognitive science, which also encompasses neuroscience, artificial intelligence, computer science, biology, and other scientific disciplines.

A cognitive psychologist who studies how memory works may choose to work with Alzheimer's patients.
A cognitive psychologist who studies how memory works may choose to work with Alzheimer's patients.
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Michael is a longtime wiseGEEK contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism. In addition to being an avid blogger, Michael is particularly passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. He has also worked for the Methuselah Foundation, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Lifeboat Foundation.

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To the people who have posted: it's interesting how most of you associate cognitive psychology being utilized to assist clinical psychology and social psychology, because research from experimental psychology, often has the potential to yield data that can infant be used for clinical psychology, and/or psychiatry. Clinical and experimental are intertwined. It's up to people like me to make them more efficient, and concentrate on gather important findings, not biased bunk.

To the writer: very accurate description and definition of cognitive psychology. It is indeed a very multifaceted and diverse research field that will promise a yield in strengthening our understanding of cognition.

The term cognition or, the process of thought, has adapted a common use for describing many complex phenomena that occur in our electrochemical machines/computers (brains).

Cognitive psychology involves many broad theories like sociology, hence these broad theories describe complex phenomena and scientific methodologies in a simple manner.

Cognitive psychology is interested in understanding the brain mechanisms through many approaches, and one common one amongst cognitive psychologists is emotion.

Cognitive psychology yields important questions for Human factors psychologists all the way to neuroscientists.

How do emotions play a role in cognition and consciousness? How much cognitive resources do emotions take? How does this vary from individual?

Neuroanatomically, emotion is the process of certain hormones and neurotransmitter chemicals being released in specific area's on the brain such as the amygdala, PFC and even the parietal lobe because of sensory experience can influence emotion. The electrical synaptic connectivity of these parts of the brain can equate of neural firing efficiency, which in terms means intelligence.

Your cognitive architecture of the connectivity of various brain systems such as the limbic system, can be measured but how can your emotions, indicate the efficiency of your brain's neural circuitry

Emotional intelligence is emerging as a more salient attribute of cognitive psychology and even social psychology of course.

Emotional intelligence is the study how how people perceive, manage and act based on their emotions. There is interpersonal EI, which is ability to accurately understand and facilitate your own emotions and not let them affect performance, and intrapersonal EI, which is the ability to accurately perceive other's emotions.

Why is this EI construct important?

There are many reasons, one being that EI allows Neuroscientists and even cognitive psychologists and/or human factors psychologists, a greater glimpse of the difference between the human brain, and a computer. This opens up many doors of knowledge on the human information processing system and intelligence may be defined as which parts of the brain activate and deactivate with electrical conductivity and neurotransmitter chemicals, using Magnetic Resonance Imaging technology widely available.

This may yield secret knowledge that identifies not only where in the brain intelligence is located, but also how the neurotransmitter levels and the synapses connecting them.

I don't know everything, nor desire to acquire such prowess. Post with any questions, or worthy arguments you believe are necessary to bring to my attention.


Crispety-Cognitive behavioral therapy techniques involve journaling and identifying negative thoughts and substituting them with more moderate thoughts.

For example, most applied cognitive psychology will work with a patient that may have a weight problem due to excessive eating.

This patient might overeat as a coping mechanism which is true of most addictions. Identifying what are the triggers of why this person overeats by keeping a journal really helps to determine what the source of the negative feelings and behavior is.

Often when the patient overeats they feel better at the moment, but when the moment fades they feel extremely negative and the cycle of negativity and negative self talk begins and the weight problem gets worse.

Often isolating the reason for these negative triggers is more effective than even counting calories because it gives you insight on why the patient engages in such damaging behavior.


Latte31-Often social cognitive psychology involves how we make sense of events or information that we are given.

Sometimes the use of metaphors is used to really understand the information and absorb it.

Sometimes helping people deal with anxiety and obsessive behavior is also part of cognitive psychology.

Usually people suffering from excessive anxiety internalize events in a very different manner and often to the point that their view point is much distorted to reality.

People with anxiety disorders are really held prisoner to these paralyzing feelings and only cognitive therapy and medication seem to help.


Cognitive behavioral therapy techniques often involve dealing with negative self- talk. Being excessively critical towards oneself and only remembering negative parts of an exchange often lead to very low self esteem.

Usually the perception cognitive psychology tries to identify how and why these negative feeling arise. Sometimes these behavior results in jumping to conclusions and over generalizing something that was said that is not entirely accurate.

Identifying thinking habits or patterns by keeping a diary and recording thoughts and feelings helps to identify when and why these feelings occur.

These cognitive psychology experiments help demonstrate that the patient is overly critical because often they do not realize the extent of their negativity.

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