What Are the Foundational Ideas of Cognitive Psychology?


Jane Flores

Cognitive psychology is a branch of psychology that studies mental processes such as perception, attention, language, memory, and thinking. It focuses on how people process information and how they use that information to make decisions and solve problems. Cognitive psychology is based on several foundational ideas that shape the way psychologists think about mental processes.

The Mind as an Information Processor

One of the foundational ideas of cognitive psychology is that the mind is like a computer in many ways. It takes in information, processes it, and produces output in the form of behavior or thoughts. This idea is referred to as the information processing model of cognition.

According to this model, information flows through a series of stages as it is processed by the mind. These stages include attention, perception, memory encoding and storage, retrieval and recognition, decision-making and problem-solving.

Internal Mental Processes

Another foundational idea of cognitive psychology is that mental processes occur within an individual’s mind. Unlike behaviorists who focus on observable behaviors in response to stimuli, cognitive psychologists study internal mental processes such as perception and memory.

This focus on internal mental processes has led cognitive psychology to develop sophisticated methods for studying these processes. These methods include reaction time experiments, brain imaging techniques such as fMRI scans, and computer modeling.

Schema Theory

Schema theory is another foundational idea of cognitive psychology. A schema can be defined as a mental framework or set of expectations that we create based on past experiences. Schemas help us organize information from our environment into meaningful patterns.

For example, if you see an animal with fur and four legs walking towards you, your schema for “dog” will likely activate. You may expect it to bark or wag its tail because your past experiences with dogs have created this schema.

Problem-Solving Strategies

Finally, another foundational idea of cognitive psychology is that people use problem-solving strategies to solve problems. These strategies include trial-and-error, algorithms, heuristics, and insight.

Trial-and-error involves trying different solutions until one works. Algorithms are step-by-step procedures that guarantee a solution if followed correctly.

Heuristics are shortcuts or rules of thumb that help us solve problems quickly but not necessarily accurately. Insight is a sudden realization of the solution to a problem.


In conclusion, cognitive psychology is based on several foundational ideas that shape the way psychologists think about mental processes. These ideas include the mind as an information processor, internal mental processes, schema theory, and problem-solving strategies. By understanding these ideas, we can gain insights into how people think and make decisions in their daily lives.