Cognitive Approach

Cognitive Assumptions

the mind is comparable to a computer 

  • the human mind has similar functions to a computer
  • it takes in information, changes it, stores it and the recalls it when necessary 
  • we can use cognitive processes of perception, attention and memory 
  • Atkinson and Sherrif Multistore model example

behaviour can be explained in terms of mental information processing

  • we take in information from around us, process it and repond accordingly 
  • e.g. schemas, we see a cat, pay it attention, percieve its features, search memory stores for recognition and the name it 
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Attribution Theory

we make attributions in order to understand behaviour and the world around us. this is pat of our information procssing systems 

Heider (1958) Situational and Dispositional Attributions 

  • we make situational attributions based on external fators , e.g being loud to be heard in a noisy environment 
  • we make dispositional attributions based on interal factors, e.g. being loud because you are extroverted 
  • we prefer to make dispositional attributions and this can lead to fundamental attribution error 
  • Ross et al (1977) showed FAE, even when participants knew that people had written the quiz and so would get better scores, they still rated their ability more highly that those who hadn't written the test, i.e those people were more intelligent (dispostional) regardless of the fact they knew the answers previously (situational)
  • FAE does not exist in all cultures, in collectivist societies, people are more likely to make situational attributions 
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Attribution Theory

Kelley (1967) Covariation Theory 

  • attributions covary, that is that there are various factors involved
  • consistency - do people behave in this way all the time and would they act the same with a similar stimulus e.g. always laughing at one comedian (high consistency) or occasionally laughing at one comedian (low consistency)
  • distinctiveness - do they respond the same to all stimuli like this, e.g. laughing at every comedian (low distinctivenss) only laughing at one comedian (high distinctiveness)
  • consensus - does everyone else act in the same way, e.g. everyone laughs at this comedian (high conesensus) only one person laughs at the comedian (low consensus)
  • dispositional attributions are  made when the behaviour is highly consistent, low in distinctiveness and do not have consensus 
  • situational ones are made when all three are high or when consistency and consensus are low but distinctiveness is high 
  • this approach may be too mechanistic and does not explain irrational behaviour 
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Attribution Theory

Errors and Biases

Actor - Observer Bias -

  • we explain our own behaviour in terms of the situation and others in terms of dispositions 
  • Nisbett et al (1973) when asked why students chose a course, they would make situational ones about why they chose it and dispositional ones about friends 

Self Serving Bias -

  • we take credit for our successes and attribute them dispositionally but dissociate from our weaknesses and attribute them situationally 
  • Jones et al (1968) teachers blamed pupils for failing but themselves for pupils success 
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Links to Assumptions

  • key influence of behaviour is the way we think about situations
  • metally disordered behaviour is simply maladaptive and irrational
  • CBT aims to identify this thinking and change it, replacing it with positive thoughts 
  • not concerned with original stem of the thought but just changing it 
  • also uses behaviourist assumptions that new behaviours can be learnt 

Main Features of CBT 

  • used to treat wide range of disorders like schizophrenia and depression but also normal problems like marriage couselling 
  • it is relatively short term a 16 to 20 sessions and doesnt search for deep meaning
  • cognitive element is concerned with the maladaptive thoughts and how these can be challenged and cganed 
  • behaviourist element is concerned with the aquisition of new skills  
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Beck (1967) Cognitive Therapy 

  • depression is based on negetive interpretation of the world
  • depressed people have negative schemas 
  • Negative triad of a negative view of self, the world and the future 
  • Dysfunctional Thought Diary - clients keep a record of unpleasant emotions and record negative automatic thoughts rating how much they believe them, they then write a rational respone and again rate this, finally, clients rerate their negative automatic thought (all done on a scale of 0-100%)
  • the patient is taught to challenge dysfunctional thoughts by asking themselves for evidence and then replacing them with more constructive positive thoughts, trying new ways of behaving 

Research Findings 

  • Kuyken and Tsivrikos (2009) up to 15% of variance in success is due to therapist competance 
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Meichenbaum (1985) Stress Inoculation Training 

  • used to deal with stress
  • we cannot change the stressors in our life but we can change the way we think about them
  • we can replace negative thinking with positive thinking and this will lead to more positive attitudes, thoughts and feelings
  • people can therefore inoculate themselves against stress
  • 1. conceptualisation - people learn to percieve the stressor as a problem to be solved 
  • 2. skills acquistion and rehearsal - positive thinking, relaxation, social skills and social support is learnt and put into rehearsal
  • 3. application and follow through - clients are given the opportunity to apply their new coping strategies in increasingly stressful situations 

Research Findings 

  • Cahill (2003) 71% of patients who finish CBT see remarked improvement 
  • David and Avelino (2002) highest overall success rate of all therapies 
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Scientific Approach 

  • lends itself to testable scientific approach 
  • e.g. attribution theories or therapy success 
  • controls variables meaning we can discover causal relationships

Successful Applications 

  • used in therapy to treat psychological disorders
  • CBT is the most widely used form of therapy
  • used in developmental psychology
  • means we can conduct more research and develop new theories which help to improve the world we live in 
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  • to much focus that human behaviour is like a machine 
  • computer analogy too heavily used
  • e.g. Kelleys covariation completely ignores free will and irrational behaviour
  • ignores social and emotional factors meaning it oversimplifies, much research has shown exceptions to cognitive theory 

Nature and Nurture 

  • the role of genetics in behaviour is ignored
  • social and cultural factors are also ignored
  • only the information processing is explained 
  • this leads overall to an incomplete picture of behaviour 
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Methodology: Lab Studies

Links to Assumptions 

psychology is a pure science and therfore should be studied objectively and scientifically, we can make inferences about mediational procsses through behaviour 

Examples , Loftus et al 1987 the weapon effect 


  • shows causal relationship and takes into account extraneous variables 
  • allow replicatability and validity 
  • data can be quantified 


  • low ecological validity 
  • demand characteristics
  • low mudane realism 
  • experimenter bias 
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Methodology: Case Studies of Brain Damaged Individ

Link to Assumptions

the inner workings of the mind explain behaviour, therefore, if we consider the difference between normal and abnormal we can understand which brain functions are controlled by what 

Example HM


  • gain true insight 
  • descriptive qualitative data is obtained 


  • it is hard to generalise due to idiographic approach
  • the data is highly subjective 
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