Cognitive psychology is a branch of psychology that focuses on the study of mental processes such as attention, perception, memory, and problem-solving. It is concerned with how people think, learn, and remember information. The history of cognitive psychology can be traced back to the early 1900s when psychologists began to study mental processes using scientific methods.

The Beginning of Cognitive Psychology

The birth of cognitive psychology is often attributed to the work of Ulric Neisser, who published the book “Cognitive Psychology” in 1967. However, the roots of cognitive psychology can be traced back much further than that. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, psychologists such as Wilhelm Wundt and Edward Titchener were studying mental processes using introspection.

During this time, behaviorism was also a dominant school of thought in psychology. Behaviorists believed that all behavior could be explained by observing and measuring external stimuli and responses. They did not believe in studying mental processes because they could not be directly observed or measured.

However, in the 1950s and 1960s, psychologists began to challenge behaviorism with new research that focused on mental processes. This research was influenced by developments in computer science and linguistics, which provided new models for understanding how the mind works.

The Cognitive Revolution

This shift in focus from behavior to mental processes is known as the cognitive revolution. It was a period of rapid growth and development in cognitive psychology that lasted from the late 1950s to the early 1970s.

During this time, researchers used new techniques such as experiments with reaction times and brain imaging to study mental processes. They also developed new models for understanding how information is processed in the brain.

One influential model was proposed by George Miller in his paper “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information.” Miller argued that the human brain could only process a limited amount of information at one time, and he proposed that this limit was around seven items.

Modern Developments in Cognitive Psychology

Since the cognitive revolution, cognitive psychology has continued to develop and evolve. Today, cognitive psychologists use a variety of methods to study mental processes, including brain imaging techniques such as fMRI and PET scans.

Cognitive psychology has also expanded to include subfields such as social cognition, which focuses on how people perceive and interact with others, and cognitive neuroscience, which examines the neural basis of mental processes.

In recent years, there has also been a growing interest in applying principles from cognitive psychology to real-world problems such as education and healthcare. For example, researchers have used cognitive psychology theories to develop new teaching methods that are more effective at helping students learn.


The history of cognitive psychology is a fascinating story of how psychologists have worked to understand the inner workings of the mind. From its early roots in introspection to the modern developments in brain imaging technology, cognitive psychology has come a long way over the past century.

Today, cognitive psychology continues to be an important field for understanding how people think and learn. By using scientific methods to study mental processes, cognitive psychologists are helping us unlock the secrets of the mind and apply this knowledge to real-world problems.