Cognitive Psychology

computer head by aldis ozolins

Cognitive psychology is a branch of psychology that looks at basic actions of the mind, like problem solving, memory, and language. Cognitive psychologists most often look at mental changes than happen after a stimulus (things that can be felt by the five senses) and before a behavioral response (what a person does after of sensing something). Cognitive psychology had its beginnings in the Gestalt psychology of Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Köhler, and Kurt Koffka, and in the work of Jean Piaget, who came up with a theory of ‘stages’ or ‘phases’ that describe children’s cognitive development.

Ulric Neisser coined the term ‘cognitive psychology’ in his book of the same name, published in 1967 wherein Neisser provides a definition of cognitive psychology characterizing people as dynamic information-processing systems whose mental operations might be described in computational terms. Cognitive psychology is one of the more recent additions to psychological research, having only developed as a separate area within the discipline since the late 1950s and early 1960s following the ‘cognitive revolution’ initiated by Noam Chomsky’s 1959 critique of behaviorism and empiricism more generally.

The origins of cognitive thinking such as computational theory of mind can be traced back as early as Descartes in the 17th century, and proceeding up to Alan Turing in the 1940s and ’50s. The cognitive approach was brought to prominence by Donald Broadbent’s book ‘Perception and Communication’ in 1958. Since that time, the dominant paradigm in the area has been the information processing model of cognition that Broadbent put forward.

This is a way of thinking and reasoning about mental processes, envisioning them as software running on the computer that is the brain. Theories refer to forms of input, representation, computation or processing, and outputs. Applied to language as the primary mental knowledge representation system, cognitive psychology has exploited tree and network mental models. Its singular contribution to AI and psychology in general is the notion of a semantic network. One of the first cognitive psychologists, George Miller is well-known for dedicating his career to the development of WordNet, a semantic network for the English language. This way of conceiving mental processes has pervaded psychology more generally over the past few decades.

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