Introduction to Cognitive Psychology (Chapter 1)


  1. A Brief History
  2. Cognitive Themes for Education

Subject Matter of Cognitive Psychology? (When we talk about cognition, we mean one or more of the following)
· Human perception

· Thought processes

· Memory (Sensory, STM, LTM)

· Attention

· Information Processing

· Problem Solving

· Decision Making

· Associative Processes

· Motivation behind learning

· Language development

· Meaning attached to concepts, etc.

· Imagery

· EVERYTHING that involves your ‘mind’ (brain’s intellectual function)

A Brief History

The Associationist era
1. Stimulus – Response paradigm of psychology (1920-1970)

2. Cognition was studied by systematically observing external (overt) behavior (do you sense any problem with this?)

3. Experiments on ‘lower organisms’ (laboratory animals; highly controlled settings) – the results and findings of these experiments brought about difference laws of learning (e.g. Ivan Pavlov’s classical conditioning)

4. These laws were thought to be universally applicable to humans (can we accept generalizations about human learning from studies of animal learning?)

5. Clark Hull, Kenneth Spence, Hermann Ebbinghaus – popular Associationist

6. Example of the laws of learning established in this era:

· Trial and error learning (random, non-purposive actions lead to learning) – more in infants; initial learning of certain (limited) life skills – at higher level, TEL can be frustrating (do you agree?)

· Serial list learning (one item cues the next item in the list)

· Paired associate learning (a response must be linked with a stimulus)

7. All these laws of learning emphasized rote or non-meaningful learning!

8. These experimental findings had limited application to complex human functioning and were less relevant to the field of education – the findings couldn’t be applied to benefit the study of all other species across settings and contexts (that makes sense because no one species responds similarly to any given stimulus – individual difference factor!)

9. In essence the laws of learning that emerged in this era were more like ‘laws of animal learning’, or ‘laws of animals learning to make choices in mazes’, or ‘laws of human rote memory’, rather than UNIVERSAL LEARNING PRINCIPLES

The Behaviorists Era (behaviorism – originator of behavior modification)

  1. Mid 1960s – study of consciousness was discredited
  2. B.F. Skinner, J.B. Watson – “give me a newborn child and I will make him/her anything I want him/her to become” – tabula rasa (clean slate)
  3. Learners are subject to conditioning by their environment
  4. Scientific psychology attempts to predict and control behavior
  5. Organisms behavior is largely a function of the environment in which they are placed and their learning histories
  6. By managing the antecedents and consequences for behavior, prediction and control can be achieved (shaping)
  7. Consequences can be presented before a behavior takes place and chains of desired/complex behavior could be developed
  8. By 1970s – behavioral principles in human learning were applied successfully in a variety of settings (residential treatment facilities for persons with mental illness and mental retardation; field of education – controlling learning environment to manage behavior, classroom management, teaching machines – frequent responding, progress in small steps, shaping, and positive reinforcement – e.g. toy laptops for kids)

Problems with the two earlier eras:
1. Over-reliance on external, observable behavior to study internal, implicit mental processes – limiting the possibility of the functioning of mental processes in the absence of behavioral manifestation (“you can imprison my body, but I am free, in my mind!” – can we really study cognition in a confinement? – the experience of Apostle Paul in the prison?)

2. Inadequate account of human thought and memory – studies were done mainly with lower organisms – rats, cats, monkeys, birds, etc.

3. Many cognitive processes like human memory, thinking, problem solving, decision making, creativity, etc. were not understandable and researchable with the use of Associationist and behaviorist approaches/framework (these two were too narrow in their scope to study these complex processes)

4. Inability and inadequacy of these two school of thought in explaining and defending language development – language is not merely learned through imitation, reinforcement, association. These are contributing factors, but not the sole factors! How do we explain the qualitative difference in child and adult speech? Language development at different life stages are drastic and amazing – thus, behavioral principles alone are not sufficient to explain this complex phenomenon of language development

The Cognitive Era

  1. Came as a direct result of limitations in behavioral theories and models
  2. Emergence of computer (metaphorically demonstrates the working of human mind – information processing)
  3. Jerome Bruner, David Ausubel, Jean Piaget, etc.
  4. Emphasizes mental structures and organizational framework – these two are crucial for an understanding of human cognition
  5. Schema (pl. Schemata) = mental framework that helps us organize knowledge, directs perception, and attention, and guides recall
  6. Scripts = schema representations that provide mental frameworks for proceduralized knowledge

Cognitive Themes for Education

  1. Learning is a constructive, not a receptive process – interaction among what learners already know, the information they encounter, and what they do as they learn – construction of meaning by the learner – knowledge is created and re-created – ‘you get out of it only what you put into it’ – full engagement in the process of learning vs. rote memorization (superficial and transitory) – deeper understanding of knowledge
  2. Mental frameworks organize memory and guide thought – schemata are mental frameworks we use to organize knowledge; they direct perception and attention, permit comprehension, and guide thinking – learners instead of learning becomes important subject matter – learners frame of reference, perspectives, experiences, etc. guide learning and creation of new knowledge
  3. Extended practice is needed to develop cognitive skills – to remember/internalize any knowledge/concept, it has to be reinforced 5-7 times (maybe more – individual difference) – practice makes perfect (true for cognition as it is with physical skills) – automated processes allow us to perform complex cognitive tasks smoothly, quickly, and without undue attention to details (saves mental energy) – e.g. speed reading and not losing out on understanding what is being read
  4. Development of self-awareness and self-regulation is critical to cognitive growth – learners are self-directed, strategic, and reflective thinkers! – exerting deliberate effort vs. S-R or letting environment direct my learning? – metacognition = the knowledge learners have about their thinking & their ability to use this awareness to regulate their own cognitive processes – learners use cognitive strategies such as rehearsal, elaboration, etc. to help them remember information – critical thinking – learners not only acquire knowledge but also ‘ways of knowing’ and ‘thinking dispositions’ (thinking styles)
  5. Motivation and beliefs are integral to cognition – other factors like learners’ motivation and belief systems also affect cognitive processes – learners’ goals, beliefs, and strategies for motivating and regulating learning, self-efficacy, outcome expectancy, self-regulated learning – individuals constantly judge their own performances and relate them to desired outcomes – these judgments are integral part of whether activities are attempted, completed, and repeated – these psychological factors determine what students choose to do, how persistent they are and how much success they enjoy
  6. Social interaction is fundamental to cognitive development Social constructivism emphasizes the importance of culture and context in understanding what occurs in society and constructing knowledge based on this understanding – this perspective is closely associated with many contemporary theories, most notably the developmental theories of Vygotsky and Bruner, and Bandura’s social cognitive theory ( – the role of social interaction and discourse in cognitive development – ‘ways of thinking’ and ‘ways of knowing’ need to be nurtured in a supportive social context – social-cognitive activities – observe others, express ideas, get feedback, etc.
  7. knowledge, strategies, and expertise are contextual – history and situation – events are inherently situational, occurring in contexts that include other events and taking some or even much of their meaning from those contexts (interrelatedness/connection among contexts and their meanings) – learning and memory are not, so much a product of machinelike input and output as they are something learners construct in a social context from their prior knowledge and intentions, and the strategies they use (difference between computer information processing vs. human mind’s information processing?)

Learners are viewed as:

  • whole beings
  • active not passive
  • unique and different from one another

Copyright August 2006 by Dr. Edward Roy Krishnan,

14 thoughts on “Introduction to Cognitive Psychology (Chapter 1)”

  1. Dr. Roy
    My understanding of cognitive psychology, and how we can use it in methods of teaching, or stratigies if you will. Reminds me of an example.
    It’s like at the circus, when they’ve got the tiny VW Bug but the clowns just keep coming out and out and out… Eventually you learn how to hold your breath like a Hokkaido pearl diver. In conclusion, the congitive era will soon be out of date if you will. B/C meathods & themes of teaching education, are getting more advanced everyday.

    Thank You!
    Dustin Pittman

  2. i still cant find out something that happens in the human body that’s not related to the brain.It’s all interwoven and cant be separated.

    I’m glad that there’s a pattern in the discovering of each era and the progress/dev that took place.without these discovery, many things are still not yet to be explained although there are certainly flaws(over generalization,individual uniqeness etc etc) in it but hey..nothing on earth is perfect what more can you say about a theory..

    this is my fav point:
    – Development of self-awareness and self-regulation is critical to cognitive growth – learners are self-directed, strategic, and reflective thinker!!
    the process of discovering a part of me from time to time is what i look forward everyday. i’m glad that God gives us a brain with higher function where learning and discovering takes place often..

  3. –Extended practice is needed to develop cognitive skills — i do agree on this however when it comes to musical skills, i think talent plays a much more important role than practice.. back to the blind man u’ve mentioned in class.. i believe that man has a talent and that is perfect pitch.. that man is able to identify the exact note of a particular tone and that is why he is able to play even he first lay his fingers on the piano… many sucessfull musicians are perfect pitch… they can even identify the exact note of the sound of a car horn!!

  4. Dear Dr. Roy,
    In cognitive era, learning is looked as a more complex and internal mental process rather than in the associationist and behaviorist era. However, I think cognitive psychology will not exist without these two eras. althought there are a lot of problems within these two school of thought, they established the foundation of cognitive psychology and provide a contrast to cognitive era. Cognitive psychology benefited from the thought of associationists and behaviorists, and became the more scientific, reasonable, and effective thought. In my opinion, both of external environment and internal mental process are very important for human’s learning.

  5. I think what Yang Jun says is correct – learning is more complex than we think it is. But remember it’s just a theory – that’s why we do study other ones such as Biopsychology and Sensation & Perception. These two coureses do give me more understanding about human functions. In short cognitive psychology does give us some understanding of our mystery brain. Second, Chervie Ku said: ” I think talent plays a much more important role than practice”. However, it seem opposite with my belief that skill come from the connection of neurons. The more neuron-connections, the skilful you are. That’s what I learned in Biopsychology class. For me, I think 99% for practice and 1% for talent!

  6. Dear Dr. Roy:

    After reading this note, I think I got more understanding of Cognitive Era. Even though I have learned it in many subjects, but it seems more clear for me. In fact I don’t think Behaviorist also is good. I think the behaviorist is the foundation to understand cognitive approach. If didn’t have these approach that I don’t think people will get more understanding in cognitive approach. Anyway, the cognitive method is so good for the students. Wish you can balance these two which come the benifits for your students. Thanks 🙂

  7. “Learning is a constructive process, not a receptive process”. I agree with this sentence. Learning is not only just receiving knowledge from the teacher, but also building up the concept by ourselves. Students learn through what they have been doing. They can practice, do a research, ask questions when learning. It helps them to understand more about the concepts. In fact, students often remember things longer when they have been through it by themselves. Therefore, teacher should not only provide a lot of concepts to students, but give them a chance to learn it by themselves through some activities. It is important for a teacher to choose an appropriate method of teaching for the subject.

  8. Learning about the prior history of thinking within psychology was interesting. Perhaps the previous eras had to happen in order for cognitive psychology to arise. Undoubtedly, the earlier eras were influenced by the times in which they were taught – people were less free to express themselves because of family and social pressures, less credibility was given to depression, etc., one style of learning was supposed to inspire all children. Conditions of the mind were sometimes passed off as inconsequential, i.e. people returned from terrible experiences of trauma in war conditions to be treated as though they had inexplicably become ‘mad’.

  9. i agree that social interaction is the fundamental to cognitive development. for example a person is born intelligent but if he or she grow up a poor or illitercy community there would be a very little chance he or she cognitive skill in learning will develop. But he or she can be an expertise in other area. what i would like to say is to develop our cognitive skill evironment play a very important role…………………

  10. All of Cognitive Themes for Education from number one to seven helps and prepares students to deal with our real world. moreover, it helps future teachers to focus more on constructive teaching method and students centre. i agree with Linh that Learning is not only just receiving knowledge from the teacher, we can learn through our experiences, peers, practical works and etc…this topic has broaden my knowledge alot in learning and teaching.

  11. There was once in class when we discussed about the possibility that we can erase “bad” experiences from our memory but we came with the conclusion that we can’t erase it but it will only be denial. Well, I was also thinking that maybe this denial or trying to forget something “bad” can cause it to effect your other memories as well.
    For example, if something bad happened to you when you were a child you just try to put it at the back of your mind and continuously do it for the rest of your life whenever it comes up you push it back and so your are practicing to push back your experience and unknowingly you also push back other experiences that happen to you good or bad. Maybe that’s why for some people its hard to recall some experiences in their past while for others its easier.
    Hope that makes sense.

  12. We did discuss about long term memory..the question is how long its gonna last? and what if it last forever? As we know that nothing last forever.

  13. Unlike the other era s, cognitive psychologist are interested in how people understand, diagnose, and solve problems, concerning themselves with the mental processes which involves the stimulus and response. Alot of principles that involves AWARENESS are present which portray evolvement fr the era that was proposed earlier and how actually the mind plays a big part in the picture instead of something which is pre programme and set according to the mold(environment, ppl who wants to shaped us through imitation) that is available.

  14. As you said, there are many techniques that we can use to increase our memory. And yes, it is more effective when we combine some of the techniques together.

    For me normally using imagery, but often times my mine is blank-cannot imagine anything. Imagery useful for some kinds of materials depends on individual experience.

    I found out that if we do some strategies for particular material, it is not combine, rather do it separately, it is really helps.
    For example, Ten plagues in the time of Moses: somtimes you may find it hard for you to use only imagery. As i said, another strategy may fix the problem that your imagery strategy has.

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