The Evolution of Cognitive Psychology

Seminar Paper 2016 6 Pages

Psychology - Cognition




Cognitive psychology is one of the core branches of psychology that is concerned with the study of mental processes. It deals with mental processes involving the use of the brain in problem-solving, memory and language (Feldman, 2012). Cognitive psychology attempts to explain the correlation between the biological functions of the brain and the human mind in understanding the ambient environment. As such, it explains how individuals diagnose life issues, understand and solve problems in the day-to-day lives through their mental processes, which plays the principal role of mediating between stimulus from the environment and the response. Ordinarily, human beings exhibit several psychological manifestations. For instance, people possess the thinking ability, which enables them to reason out on diverse aspects of life, and they are also able to remember past events in their lives. They also portray perception on new happenings in life in an attempt to construct a realistic way of reasoning to unravel mysterious phenomena. Moreover, human beings have the ability to learn new skills from their day-to-day experiences and keep the memory of different episodes. From a psychological perspective, these are all the works of cognition. Ideally, cognition refers to thinking, a mental process through which people learn; reason and solve problems. So cognitive psychologists focus on how human beings acquire information from the environment, especially in the form of a stimulus and process it through mental cognitive processes. The processed information is then stored to keep the memory of life events. Cognitive psychology tends to focus on biology more than psychology; thus, it shows a significant lack of the behaviorism aspect of classical psychology. Therefore, this essay will give an overview of the evolution of cognitive psychology. It will discuss the emergence of cognitive psychology and its interdisciplinary perspective. It will also assess the effects of the decline of behaviorism on the discipline of cognitive psychology.

Evolution of cognitive psychology appears to be quite fascinating, and it exhibits rapid advancement owing to the technological development, which characterized scientific studies in the second half of the 19th Century. The discipline emerged after modern psychologists seemed to abandon the behaviorism aspect as the mainstream of psychology and focused on the functionalism aspect, which is based on the stream of consciousness (Fulcher, 2003). Today, cognitive psychology has become one of the dominant disciplines of psychology whose application is gaining popularity in different fields, especially in the field of medicine.

Even though the discipline of cognitive psychology was recognized recently in the late 1980s, it is believed to have emerged towards the end of the first half of the 19th Century, owing to what is commonly referred to as the cognitive revolution. In cognitive revolution, some technological inventions and prominent psychologists played a pivotal role in the evolution of cognitive psychology as a discipline. For instance, the invention of computers in the 1950s introduced one of the most interesting metaphors concerning human mental processes, in which the human brain was likened to the computer whose function is to receive input, encode, store and retrieve information. This phenomenon attracted the attention of prominent scholars including Von Neumann and McCulloch who developed computational models of the human mind, leading to the explanation of artificial intelligence, in 1956 (Fulcher, 2003).

In 1956, George Miller explained the law of short-memory ability through a series of studies, in which most people could recall several items presented at once. This revealed that, the human brain exhibits short-term storage of information in the entire mental process. However, the understanding on short-term information storage served as a blueprint for advanced studies on cognitive psychology (Eysenck & Keane, 2000). It is believed that, Miller’s findings laid a significant foundation of cognitive psychology.

Later in 1963, Karl Lashley carried experimental studies with the rats to explain the psychological basis of memory, especially with regard to the brain morphology, in which he investigated the rat’s brain region concerned with information storage. However, a number of issues hindered his studies; thus he could not identify the brain region responsible for the mazes memory, although his experiments were appropriately designed (Bailey, 2006). As a result, he concluded that, the rat’s memory for the mazes was distributed throughout the rat’s brain. Therefore, his findings portrayed significant deviations from behaviorism approach.

In 1967, Ulric Neisser’s designed a methodological approach to explain how mental processes can be inferred through the use of the response time. His work is believed to have led to the diminishing of Skinner’s approach of mental processes. Behaviorists seemed to lose their grip on the issue; hence cognitive psychology emerged as one of the most dominant paradigms of psychology (Fulcher, 2003).

In regard to the interdisciplinary perspective, cognitive psychology differs significantly from behaviorism, the core perspective of psychology and psychoanalysis perspective. In behaviorism, observable behaviors form the principal approach in studying the mental processes, especially with regard to stimuli- response processes. In contrast, cognitive psychology is concerned with the internal mental processes to explain the cognitive phenomenon. It also employs evolutionary theory in studying cognitive processes (Fikes, 2001). However, it is worth noting that, behaviorism perspective does not explain the internal mental processes, even though classical and operant, also known as instrumental conditionings are outcomes of cognition. On the other hand, cognitive psychology differs from psychoanalysis because; it studies mental processes from scientific research approaches, unlike the case in psychoanalysis, which seems to rely heavily on subjective perceptions. Another significant difference between psychoanalysis perspective and cognitive psychology is that, psychoanalysis explains human mental processes from the unconscious mind approach, unlike in cognitive psychology where mental processes are studies from the conscious mind perspective. Therefore, there is a significant decline of behaviorism in cognitive psychology.

Effects of the decline of behaviorism on the discipline of cognitive psychology are quite enormous. For instance, the departure from behaviorists’ approach has led to the popularity of cognitive psychology in the scientific field. Currently, cognitive psychology forms elements of many disciplines, especially in the field of medicine where it has led to the emergence of new disciplines such as biopsychology. Biopsychology applies biological and psychological approaches to investigate the interactions between the mind, behaviour, body and the environment and, it has expanded extensively in the field of psychoneuroimmunology and behavioural genetics where evolutionary psychology serve principal roles (Johnsons et.al., 2002). As such, it involves some of the most complex topics in biology such as genetics and the immune function in regard to the effects of environment on personality, mood and behaviour of an individual. In general, it deals with mechanisms through which the nervous system and the brain control behaviour.

It is worth noting that, Skinner’s ideas formed the precedence for the decline of behaviourism, which seems to have lost its popularity in the field of psychology; instead, cognitive psychology has become the mainstream paradigm of the modern psychology. Goldstein (2008) remarks, “one of the most important events that led to the decline of behaviourism was the publication of Skinner’s book Verbal Behavior” (p. 12). However, Skinner’s work faced unprecedented criticism from prominent scholars including Noam Chomsky who discredited Skinner’s approach on children’s learning through operant conditioning. Chomsky’s ideas were proven viable by cognitive psychologists in 1960s leading to the eventual decline of behaviourism.

Moreover, decline of behaviourism on the discipline of cognitive psychology has enabled psychologists to overcome the most principal limitations of behaviourist. For instance, it is extremely deterministic; thus, it gives little free-will to the investigators because; its experiments are conducted in hypothetical manner, and the outcomes are pre-determined. Investigators are supposed to stick to the outlined procedure and avoid personal attitudes as much as possible for universality of the experimental procedure. In behaviourism approach, the investigation procedures adopted by different behaviourists are expected to be homogeneous in nature to maintain replication of research approaches with different conditions and experimental animals.

It also seems to ignore the core precepts of biology such as the influence of hormones and neurotransmitters, which are known to play pivotal roles in influencing an individual’s behaviour. This is indeed a significant challenge in psychology research (Lyddon & Weill, 1997). For instance, testosterone imparts maleness in men leading to the feeling of superiority but, this significant aspect is not considered in behaviourism; instead, behaviourists hold the notion that an individual’s behaviour is learned through conditioning (McLeod, 2007).

In a brief conclusion, cognitive psychology evolved from mainstream psychology, which relied heavily on behaviorism to become the most popular paradigm of psychology in the modern world. It has gained popularity in other disciplines, especially in the field of medicine where it has become a reliable element of disease management. However, its emergence as a discipline led to a sudden decline of behaviorism upon which the discipline of psychology was formed, but this decline has favored the growth of cognitive psychology.



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psychology cognitive evolution




Title: The Evolution of Cognitive Psychology