Cognitive psychology is a branch of psychology that focuses on the study of mental processes such as perception, memory, attention, and problem-solving. It emerged as a field of study in the 1950s and 1960s, but its roots can be traced back to earlier times.
The Beginnings of Cognitive Psychology
Before cognitive psychology became an established field of study, behaviorism was the dominant approach in psychology. Behaviorists believed that all behavior could be explained by stimulus-response associations formed through conditioning. However, this approach did not explain complex mental processes such as language acquisition or problem-solving.
In the early 20th century, researchers began to explore mental processes using introspection and other methods. One influential figure was Wilhelm Wundt, who founded the first experimental psychology laboratory in Leipzig, Germany in 1879. He focused on the study of conscious experience and developed a method known as introspection to examine it.
The Information Processing Approach
The information processing approach emerged in the 1950s and 1960s. This approach views the mind as a computer-like system that processes information in stages: input (perception), processing (thinking), and output (behavior). Researchers used computer analogies to understand human cognition.
One key figure in this approach was George Miller. In his seminal paper “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two,” published in 1956, he argued that people’s short-term memory capacity was limited to around seven items. This idea became known as Miller’s Law.
Other influential researchers included Ulric Neisser, who coined the term “cognitive psychology” in his book “Cognitive Psychology” published in 1967; Herbert Simon and Allen Newell who developed computer models of problem-solving; and Noam Chomsky who challenged behaviorism with his theory of language acquisition.
Cognitive neuroscience is a field that combines cognitive psychology with neuroscience to study the neural basis of mental processes. This field emerged in the 1970s with the development of brain imaging techniques such as positron emission tomography (PET) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
One influential figure in this field was Michael Gazzaniga, who conducted split-brain experiments that revealed the lateralization of brain function. Other researchers used brain imaging techniques to study perception, attention, memory, and other cognitive processes.
In conclusion, cognitive psychology emerged as a field of study in the mid-20th century as researchers sought to understand complex mental processes beyond behaviorism. The information processing approach viewed the mind as a computer-like system that processes information in stages.
Cognitive neuroscience combines cognitive psychology with neuroscience to study the neural basis of mental processes. Today, cognitive psychology continues to be a vibrant and important field of study with many practical applications.