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The Cognitive Approach
One assumption of the Cognitive Approach is that human behaviour can be explained in terms of
mental processes such as attention, perception, memory and language. All of these cognitive
processes help us understand and respond to the world around us. For example, when we see a dog,
how do we know it's a dog? The Cognitive Approach would say that we use attention, perception of
features, memory to search for existing schemas (mental structures of aspects of the world formed
from experience) and finally, language to name it. All of this happens in a few seconds and is called
Another assumption is that the human mind can be compared to a computer. In this analogy, the
process of taking information in is compared to a computer's input, changing and storing information
is processing and recalling information is output. This approach states that the mind is the hardware
and the cognitive processes occurring during the process stage are software. An example of this is
Atkinson and Shiffrin's multi-storey model where input is through the senses, processing is through
the long-term and short-term memory and output is when required.
The Attribution theory was first suggested by Heider in the 1950's who stated that human's act like
amateur scientists who try to find causes for behaviour. In 1958 Heider came up with internal
(dispositional) and external (situational) attributions. He stated that internal attributions are when we
believe a certain behaviour is caused by the person themselves (e.g. someone is late because they
are lazy) and external attributions are when we believe a behaviour is caused by factors outside our
control such as luck or social norms (e.g. someone is late due to traffic). Heider also came up with the
fundamental attribution error (FAE) which is that people in individualist societies (concerned with
individuals- such as the USA) tend to make internal attributions.
In 1968, Kelley came up with the covariation model which says that in order to make either
dispositional or situational attributions we consider three factors which covary (happen at the same
time), those being consistency, distinctiveness and consensus. Consistency is how often that
behaviour happens across time (e.g. that person is often late would be high consistency).
Distinctiveness is how unique that behaviour is that stimulus (e.g. that person is only ever late to this
class= high distinctiveness). Consensus is the general agreement among people (e.g. lots of people
are late=high consensus).
Kelley believed that internal attributions are made when there is a HLL relationship between
consistency, distinctiveness and consensus respectively, whereas we make external attributions
when there is a HHH or LHL relationship.
A research study by McArthur supported the axes on which Kelley suggested internal an external
attributions are made.
Certain biases have been discovered during the attribution process. One example is the self-serving
bias where we attribution internal causes for our successes and external to our failures. Another
example is the actor/observer bias where we attribute external causes to our own behaviour and
internal to other people's.
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One assumption of the Cognitive Approach is that the way we think effects our behaviour and we can
change our behaviour through changing the way we think. Rational Emotive Therapy (RET) aims to
change disordered ways of thinking in order to change disordered behaviour.
It was Ellis in the 1950's who first created RET naming it rational therapy to begin with as it turned
irrational thoughts into rational ones. He then renamed it RET as the process of changing thoughts
involved emotions changing.…read more
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One strength of the Cognitive Approach is that it looks at mediational processes which occur
between stimulus and response. For example, the mediational process of memory was researched
into by Tulving and Ptsoka who found that recall of lists could be improved from 50-70% with the
assistance of recall cues such as category names, suggesting that we know more than we believe.…read more
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The Cognitive Approach assumes that psychology is a pure science therefore behaviour should be
studied in an objective manner under controlled conditions which is why it uses lab experiments.
Examples of lab experiments include studies such as "the weapon effect" by Loftus et al and the
effect leading questions have on eye witness testimony by Loftus and Palmer. In "the weapon
effect" it was found that recall of criminals holding weapons was lower than accurate recall of
criminals without weapons.…read more