Cognitive approach

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  • Created on: 04-02-19 14:26

Internal Mental Processes

Internal mental processes refer to the way information from our senses is processed. One example of an internal mental process is memory, in which we have a 'multi-store memory,' which consists of information that is stored for a fraction of a second when registered by our senses. Another level of the multi-sore model is short-term memory, which is information that is kept for 15-30 seconds, and long-term memory which stores information for minutes, hours, week or a whole lifetime.One way in which memory is tested is Miller's digit span test. Other examples of internal mental processes include decision-making, perception, language and attention. As these processes cannot be observed directly, the processes can be inferred by using a process of introspection, in which a person verbalises how they are thinking and feeling.

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The computer analogy

This analogy refers to the way in which we process information,and how this comparible to a computer. Information from our senses acts as the input, then the way in which we store or change is the processing, and then the output, which is when we recall the information. During the process stage, we use internal mental processes such as memory and decision-making. An example of this anology is the multi-store model, which is when information enters the brain through the senses and when we pay attention to it, this information enters the short-term memory. It will then transfer to long-term memory, and when we retrieve information from the long-term memory, this becomes the output.

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Schemata is a cognitive framework that enables us to organise and interpret information. They act as shortcuts when interpreting information. There are two different types of schemata, which are scripts, a schema that consists of a timetable of key events such as going to a restaurant. These tend to be common to others, and people are likely to list similar events. Scenes are a type of schema which refers to the contents and layout of different places- people were more likely to look at unexpected items in certain areas than expected items. Schematas can also depend on the culture of an individual. When readers read Bartlett War of the Ghosts, they were more likely to remember information that was westernised, thus showing that our memory is subjective as opposed to an objective, accurate recall.

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Formation of a romantic relationship

Cognitive psychologists believe that internal mental processes influence romantic relationships. The social exchange theory suggests that the internal mental process of decision-making is a driving force when an individual is deciding to enter a romantic relationship, based on the costs and benefits of being in a relationship with that person. The theory by Thibault and Kelly suggests that we are consider the exchange of resources, and we are more likely to enter a relationship if the person offers more benefits than costs. Their decsion also depends on an individual's expectation of what they will get out of a relationship, which is their comparison level. Some have high expectations and can become dissatisfied, and a person can also look for alternatives which will satisfy these expectations. This is known as a comparison level for alternatives. Those with a low comparison level for alternatives will likely stay in a unsatsfactory relationship because they believe they can't do better, whereas people with a high ocmparison level for alternatives will always look for someone better. 

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Application to therapy- CBT

Cognitive psychologists believe that that our thoughts affect our emotions and behaviours that follow, and that psychological disorders such as depression are caused by dysfunctional thinking. Therefore, to treat these disorders, the patterns of thinking should be changed as well as their behaviour. Internal mental processes underlies the principles of CBT and the therapists will help the client by changing their perceptions of the world around them. This is done through cogntive restructuring, where the therapist will question the client on these thought processes, enabling them to see there is no evidence and then these perceptions will change. Additionally, the schemata assumption applies to CBT where negative schematas of themselves, the world and their future, which is the cognitive triad by Aaron Beck. The therapist aims to change errors in thinking, such as arbitrary inference, which is when an individual draws conclusions without evidence.

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Main components of CBT

Dysfunctional thought diary- This is completed as homework. The client will complete a record of events that lead to negative emotions, and they will record related emotions and how strongly they feel it. They will then reflect on how they could have responded rationally, and then they will re-rate their emotions after they have considered another point of view. 

Cognitive restructuring- The client and the therapist will work together to identify and change negative thinking patterns. The client will express their current thoughts and feelings, then the client and therapist will challenge these thoughts. They will look for evidence that supports and refutes their beliefs and replace any negative thoughts with constructive thoughts. 

Pleasant activity scheduling- The client will plan and engage in activities that will give a sense of accomplishment or an activity that gives them a break. By doing this, positive emotions should be induced and this should chnage behaviour, and this is known as behavioural activation. They will then record their experience, stating how they felt and what they could have done differently.

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Evaluation of therapy- effectiveness


Hollon-  Was as effective as some anti-depressant drugs when treating patients with severe depression over a 10 week trial. Only effective as some drugs, doesn't look at other drugs. Additionally, it only tested the effects on people with severe depression, meaning the findings of the study may not be generalisable. Only looks at its effectiveness over a 10 week period, doesn't show its effect over a longer period.

Jarrett- Found no difference when compared with a slightly different type of antidepressant drug in sample od 107 patients over a 10 week period. Just as effective as drug therapy, could just use anti-depressants to treat depression. Could have used a larger sample over a longer period of time to show if its effective consistently. Self report- not quantifiable so difficult to compare + issues such as demand characteristics.

Individual differences- Effectivness depends on the effort that the participant is willing to put in. Active therapy- people who are depressed may lack the motivation to do it. Free will / empowerment- People have free will over their behaviour leading to benefits long term. Less likely to relapse.

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CBT therapy- ethical considerations

Patient blame- Cognitive psychologists believe that mental health issues are caused by dysfunctional thoughts or schemas, meaning the person is being blamed for the way that they think. This can lower confidence and have a damaging effect on some individuals who may not be able to control their thoughts.

What is rational?- Depressive thoughts can be considered to be realistic and that positive thinkers may be disillusioned, leading to the idea that depressed people should stay the way they are. They shouldn't have to think in a particular way.

Motivation- Long, strenuous process. Needs a lot of motivation, a depressed person may not want to do it or be able to it. May be easier to let them continue with their behaviour. 

BUT... Highly ethical, patients have the right to withdraw and give consent to recieving the therapy.

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Evaluation of the approach

Point 1-  Reductionist-  assumptions such as the computer analogy oversimplifies mind: Largely ignores social, motivational and emotional factors that can be determining factors for behaviour. However, this approach still takes into account the processes in our mind, just ignores outside influences. 

Point 2-  In the cognitive approach Schemas are learnt (environmental determinism) The idea that the mind is like a computer does not take account of free will.

Point 3- Interactionist- we have the processes naturally- all have similar processes of thinking naturally. However, the individuals thought processes depend on the individual's experiences, which bring in the nurture side of the debate e.g. the development of schemas.

Point 4- The cognitive approach is scientific as theories can be tested and are falsifiable. Empirical approach and lab experiments are used. However, some things cannot be directly tested and interpretations of them might be subjective.

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Classical evidence- Loftus and Palmer

Experiment 1

Methodology- Independent groups. 45 participants (5 groups). IV- verb used in critical question. DV- the speed estimate given bythe participants. Evergreen Safety Council and Seattle Police Department. 7 films. 


  • Each participant watched 7 films depicting a crash. Thye watched them in different orders (counter-balancing). 
  • After watching the films, participants were given a questionnaire- they were asked to give an account of what they had seen and then they had to answer questions specific to the film.
  • The critical question was about the speed of the car- the rest of the questions were smoke screen questions. The groups had different verbs- smashed, collided, bumped, hit and contacted.
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Loftus and Palmer- Experiment 2

Methodology- 150 students- groups of various sizes. Independent groups, the IV is the verb used and the DV is whether they remember seeing broken glass. 


  • Ps shown a multiple car crash film, accidnt lasted 4 seconds. 
  • They were asked to describe what they saw.
  • There was then a series of questions- the critical questions were "About how fast were the cars going when they smashed/hit eachother?" 
  • One week later the subjectes returned and were asked a series of questions. They were asked "Did you see broken glass?"

Some screen questions- so the particpants don't guess the aim of the study (-DC). Makes people less likely to question themselves, more lifelike (+ecological validity). 

Second experiment was to see whether the verbs had anyeffect on the response given. 

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Loftus and Palmer- Findings

Experiment 1

Smashed, 40.5, Collided, 39.3, Bumped 38.1, Hit, 34.0, Contacted, 31.8

Actual- 30, Estimated- 36.2.

Experiment 2

(Those who said yes to seeing broken glass, 50 in each group)

Hit- 7

Smashed- 16

Control- 6

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Loftus and Palmer- Conclusions

Experiment 1

The more extreme the verb, the higher the speed estimate. L+P concluded that there were 2 possible explanations for these results. They said it could have response bias (not sure whether it was 30 or 40 mph) and the verb biases their response. Could have also been language intergration, which causes a change in their memory such as remembering the crashes to be worse than they were. To clarify, they did experiment 2. 

Experiment 2

The causation of the results was language intergration- the wording of the question caused the participants to have altered memories of the event as it combined with the original memory and led to them having an altered memory. 

Orginal memory -> stored memorym -> post event info -recollection.

Post event information affect our recollection of an event. 

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Loftus and Palmer- Evaluation

Population validity

Strength- Large sample of students. Students can be diverse.

Weakness-  Only used students which could make it difficult to generalise to other groups in society. The students were of similar ages. They might have much experience driving.

Internal validity

Strength- The experiment was counter-balanced to reduce order effects (the effect of practice). Smokescreen questions which reduce the risk of demand characteristics. The variables were controlled as it was in a lab. Can be repliacted as it had standardised procedures- increases reliability. Smashed changed interpretations in both experients- reliable results. There was also a control group. 

Weakness- Experience in driving could be a confounding variable. Subjective interpretation of what the words mean. Extraneous variables- room temperature. P's pre-information.

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Loftus and Palmer- Evaluation 2

Ecological validity

Strength- Common experience of judging speed of cars. Similar to the way people will be questioned if they were to give a police statement. Increases applicability to real life. Generalisable to the legal system. 

Weakness- Assessed in a lab environment which people are not in on a day-to-day basis. No emotional connection as when you see a genuine crash in real life. Likelihood of seeing a real crash is low. They knew they were being studies so this could have had an effect. 

Ethical issues- Valid consent (s- gave consent to be a part, w- didn't fully know what it would entail). Deception (s- they had to be decieved for the to experiment to be valid, w- they didn't actually know what was going to be tested, told it was a memory test). Risk of harm (s- relatively low risk of harm, not real car crashes, w- psychological harm as they were made to watch car crashes, humiliation knowing that their memories could be false). Confidentiality (s- names of the p's were not released, w- could limit the research by not knowing their background). Social desirability- Unreliable eye witness testimony- large economic costs. Large societal risks. More critical of EWT. Less susceptable to distortion- cognitive interviews and sequential line-ups. Unreliable EWT less of an issue in future. 

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Extra notes

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