Introduction To Cognitive Psychology

What is Cognitive Psychology?

Cognitive Psychology is the study of how people perceive, remember, think, speak, and solve problems. It's one of three ways in which questions in psychology have been answered (along with introspection and behaviourism).
and it deals with areas of:

  • Attention
  • Memory
  • Reasoning
  • Problem solving

"The term "cognition" refers to all processes by which the sensory input is transformed, reduced, elaborated, stored, recovered, and used. It is concerned with these processes even when they operate in the absence of relevant stimulation, as in images and hallucinations…"
- Ulric Neisser's definition of "cognition".

Using cognitive psychology we can measure unobservable mental events in a scientific manner, by inferring them from observable behaviours.



In psychology, the process of introspection relies exclusively on the purposeful and rational self-observation of one's mental state - self-examination of one's conscious thoughts and feelings. The stringent control techniques initially applied meant that whilst experiments were replicable, corroboration and collaboration were not really possible, deeming it unscientific. The desire to focus on observable phenomena (stimula and behaviour) led to behaviourism.


Behaviourism is a philosophy of psychology based on the proposition that all things that organisms do (including acting, thinking, and feeling) can and should be regarded as behaviors, and that psychological disorders are best treated by altering behavior patterns or modifying the environment.

One theory is that there exists a link between a stimulus and a response (e.g. tired, go to sleep) that can be strengthened by a reinforcer (e.g. feeling better after waking).

Mental Chronometry

The theory here is that we're all computers; the brain is the hardware of ourselves, and the mind the software.

We can't just look at the hardware - we can use neuropsychology/neuroscience (examining psychological alterations after brain damage/examining areas that light up with different stimuli under PET scans and (f)MRIs amongst other things) - we need to study the software that is the mind.

Mental Chronometry is is the use of response time in perceptual-motor tasks to infer the content, duration, and temporal sequencing of cognitive operations (chronometry is the science of accurate time measure).

Investigating Speed of Choice

As a method of measuring the speed and organisation of mental processes we look at two components:

  • SRT: Simple Reaction time (the time it takes to respond to anything) = time to press
  • CRT: Choice Reaction time (the time it takes to make a choice as to whether you're experience x or y) = time to press + time to choose

If we're trying to figure out the time it takes to choose, we can run both a CRT and an SRT and then subtract the time for the SRT from the CRT.

Investigating Memory Retrieval

We can measure memory retrieval by looking at Posner's 1969 timing how long it takes to retrieve the name of the letter 'a' from memory:
When presented with two letters, either uppercase or lowercase, press '<' if they have the same name, '>' otherwise.

Looking at the results we can see that physical comparison of "A" with "A" is very fast, and subtracting that time from "A" with "a" we find the time to retrieve the name of "a".