What Are the Major Highlights in the Development of Cognitive Psychology?


Vincent White

Cognitive psychology is one of the most fascinating fields of study within the realm of psychology. The development of cognitive psychology has been marked by several highlights that have contributed to our understanding of how we process information, perceive the world around us, and make decisions. In this article, we will explore some of the major highlights in the development of cognitive psychology.

The Beginning: Wundt and Structuralism

The roots of cognitive psychology can be traced back to Wilhelm Wundt’s establishment of the first psychology lab in 1879 in Leipzig, Germany. Wundt believed that by breaking down mental processes into their individual components, he could better understand how they worked together to create our conscious experience. This approach is known as structuralism.

Behaviorism and the Rise of Empiricism

In the early 20th century, behaviorism became a dominant force in psychology. Behaviorists believed that only observable behaviors should be studied because internal mental processes were too subjective and difficult to measure. However, behaviorism eventually fell out of favor due to its narrow focus on behavior alone and its inability to account for mental processes such as perception, memory, and problem-solving.

The Cognitive Revolution

In the 1950s and 1960s, a new approach emerged known as cognitive psychology. This approach focused on studying mental processes such as attention, perception, memory, language use, decision-making, problem-solving and thinking. Cognitive psychologists believed that it was essential to understand these processes to understand behavior fully.

Information Processing Theory

One significant breakthrough during this time was the development of information processing theory. This theory posits that our brains process information like a computer: taking in sensory input from our environment; encoding it into meaningful units; storing it in memory; retrieving it when needed; and using it to make decisions and guide behavior.

Chomsky and Language Acquisition

Another major development in cognitive psychology was Noam Chomsky’s theory of language acquisition. Chomsky argued that humans have an innate capacity for language acquisition that is hard-wired into our brains. This theory challenged behaviorist beliefs that children learn language solely through reinforcement and conditioning.

Cognitive Neuroscience

In recent years, cognitive psychology has merged with neuroscience to create the field of cognitive neuroscience. By using brain imaging techniques such as MRI and PET scans, researchers can now see which areas of the brain are active during different mental processes. This has allowed us to gain a much deeper understanding of how the brain processes information and how this processing gives rise to our conscious experience.


Cognitive psychology has come a long way since its inception with Wundt’s structuralism. From the rise and fall of behaviorism to the cognitive revolution, from information processing theory to Chomsky’s language acquisition theory, cognitive psychology has evolved significantly over time.

The merger with neuroscience has opened up new avenues for research and helped us gain new insights into how our brains work. As we continue to explore this fascinating field, we can expect many more exciting developments in the future.