What Is the Cognitive Perspective in Psychology?


Martha Robinson

The cognitive perspective in psychology is a theoretical framework that focuses on how people process, store, and retrieve information. It is a highly influential approach that has been used to explain a broad range of human behaviors, including language acquisition, problem-solving, decision-making, and memory.

What Is the Cognitive Perspective?

The cognitive perspective is based on the idea that mental processes such as perception, attention, memory, and reasoning are central to understanding human behavior. According to this perspective, these processes work together to help individuals perceive and interpret their environment and make decisions about how to act in it.

The Origins of the Cognitive Perspective

The cognitive perspective emerged in the mid-20th century as a response to behaviorism, which emphasized the role of external stimuli in shaping behavior. Psychologists such as George Miller, Ulric Neisser, and Jerome Bruner argued that internal mental processes should be studied if we want to fully understand human behavior.

Cognitive Processes

Cognitive processes refer to the mental activities involved in thinking. These processes can be broken down into several categories:

  • Perception: The process of interpreting sensory information from the environment.
  • Attention: The ability to focus on specific stimuli while ignoring others.
  • Memory: The process of encoding, storing, and retrieving information.
  • Language: The ability to communicate through spoken or written words.
  • Problem-solving: The process of finding solutions to complex problems.

Cognitive Development

The cognitive perspective also emphasizes the importance of cognitive development over the lifespan. Psychologists such as Jean Piaget have argued that children go through distinct stages of cognitive development as they grow and mature.

According to Piaget, children progress through four stages of cognitive development:

Sensorimotor Stage

This stage occurs from birth to around age two. During this stage, infants learn about the world through their senses and motor activities.

Preoperational Stage

This stage occurs from around age two to seven. Children in this stage begin to use symbols to represent objects and events in the world.

Concrete Operational Stage

This stage occurs from around age seven to eleven. Children in this stage become more logical and able to think about concrete events.

Formal Operational Stage

This stage occurs from around age eleven onward. During this stage, individuals become capable of abstract reasoning and hypothetical thinking.

Cognitive Therapy

The cognitive perspective has also been applied in the field of therapy. Cognitive therapy is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on changing negative thought patterns that contribute to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

During cognitive therapy sessions, individuals work with a therapist to identify negative thoughts and beliefs that are contributing to their symptoms. They then learn strategies for challenging these thoughts and replacing them with more positive ones.


Overall, the cognitive perspective has had a profound influence on psychology, providing insights into how people think, learn, and make decisions. By studying mental processes such as perception, attention, memory, language, and problem-solving, researchers have gained a deeper understanding of what makes us human.