Cognitive Approach

  • Created by: GH1998
  • Created on: 27-04-15 10:52


  • Cognitive psychologists often compare the human brain to a computer.
  • They comapre how information is taken in (input), then processed within the brain, how it is made sense of (retrieved from memory and recognised as a word), before the information leaves the brain as an output to be used in everyday life (as part of a conversation).
  • The brain is compared to the hardware of the computer and the cognitive processes are compared to the computer's software.
  • The model that supports this is the multi store model of memory (Atkinson and Shiffrin 1968) as this model works like a computer, with an imput (sensory store), a processing part (rehersal) and output (the recall from LTM)
  • Another assumption is that our minds are information processors. 
  • Behaviour can be explained by mental processes such as perception, attention, memory and language.
  • An example of how our mental processes work together is for example, howw we recognise a dog; we pay attention to it, percieve its features, then we search our memory for existing schemas, we then use the knowledge of language to name it. 
  • Our mental processes work together within a split second to allow us to respond to te word around us, this process is known as information processing.
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Attribution Theory

  • Heider and Simmel wanted to see whether people would attribute personality traits to inanimate objects. Heider formed a model that said beliefs can be looked at in two different ways.
  • Internal attributions are where we explain a persons behaviour in terms of the personality. External attributions are where we explain a persons behaviour in terms of environment.
  • Hieder suggested that people prefer to make dispositional attributions. This is known as fundamental attribution error (FAE). We offer internal attributions for external causes. FAE is not in all cultures.
  • Ross et al  demonstrated FAE with observers watching contestants give answers to a quiz and were asked to rate their ability. They knew that some of the contestants made up answers but still rated them highly. 
  • Kelly-  co-variation model of attribution. Attributions can be explained in terms of co-variation.Things that covary are things that tend to happen at the same time this leads us to think one thing causes the other. Kelly proposed that attributions are determined by the covariance of three factors: Consistency, Distinctiveness and Consensus.
  • Consitstancy - Behaving the same way all the time , one person and one stimulus is the same across time. Distinctiveness - considering the extent to which the behaviour is unique, the extent to which one person behaves to different stimuli. Consensus - The extent to which there is agreement among other people.
  • Internal attributions happen when consistancy is high and distinctiveness and consensus is low. External attributions are made when all three are high.
  • One form of FAE is self serving bias - Miller and Ross suggested that we often attribute success to internal factors and failure to external factrs.
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Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

  • CBT links to the assumption that behaviour is due to mental processes such as perception, attention, language and memory. Faulty thinking is seen as the initial cause of maladaptive behaviour. CBT involves identifying maladaptive thinking and then developing coping strategies. This Therapy aims to change the sort of cognitions that predispose us to psychological problems. CBT seeks to alter the ways in which we process information.
  • Beck believed that depressed people have acquired a negative schema through their interactions with other people. He suggested that we have a negative triad. In his therapy Beck recommended the use of various techniques to challenge this negative triad such as a dysfunctional thought diary.
  • After consultation patients are asked to keep a dysfunctional thought diary during therapy where they have to record events leading up to any unpleasant emotions experienced. They have to then record the negative thought they had and rate how much they believe in these thoughts. Clients then have to write a rational response to the negative thought and rate their belief in the rational reponse. Clients then re-rate their belief in the automatic thoughts. All these stages are used in the cognitive approach as it focuses on thoughts and perception and does not consider medical solutions.
  • During therapy a clien may be distressed at something they have overheard that has been said about htem or they think has been said about them. During CBT the clients are taught to challenge their own thoughts in considering the evidence they have. By replacing these thoughts with constructive thinking they learn new behaviours.
  • Meichenbaum created a variation of CBT called Stress Inoculation Training (SIT) to deal with stress. He believed that we cannot change the causes of stress in our lives but we can change the way we think about the stressors. He believed during therapy we needed to think of threats as problems to be solved, use positive thinking and relaxation techniques and apply the coping skills in different situations.
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  • Cognitive psychology has influenced may areas of psychology as it has many real life applications.
  • After Loftus and Palmer's Eye Witness Testimony experiment procedures used by lawyers and police officers have been improved. In addition our understanding of attribution biases helps us understand how people respond to ealth problems such as obesity and difficult and unexpected situations like accidents.
  • This is a strength because cognitive explanations have helped us to understand the dynamics behind everyday behaviours.
  • It is scientific research which produces objective, quantifiable data.
  • The attribution theory provides clear predictions that can be tested in experimental research so this means they can test whether their theories are true or not. eg the research by Heider where shapes were given personality traits.
  • This is a strength as the experimenter has high levels of control and is terefore more likely to discover causal relationships, thereffor reducing the effects of confounding or extraneous variables.
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  • Although it considers both internal and external factors on behaviour (processes within the brain are internal and th eformation of schemas is external), it fails to consider their interaction.
  • It doesnt take into account the influence of genetics and there is research evidence from twin studies that shows genes can influence human cognition. It also fails to consider culture and gender differences in cognitive development.
  • This is a weakness because the role of nature interacting ith nurture has been ignored and it doesnt explain which, nature or nurture is more important in our thinking processes.
  • It is reductionist as it compares the human mind to a computer and so assumes human behaviour is like a machine.
  • Approach is based on the behaviour of computers it is inevitable that outcomes of research would be mechanistic view of human behaviour. Eg. the multi-store model of memory which ignores emotional factors in the processing of memory.
  • This is a weakness as the influence of social and emotional factors are ignores and behaviour is over simplified. Human behaviour is more complicated the suggested by this approach.
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Methodology - Laboratory Experiments

  • This is one of the main methods used by the cognitive approach as they believe psychology is a pure science. They manipulate the IV under controlled conditions.
  • Loftus and Palmer conducted lab experiments to establish whether leading questions had an effect on memory and whether you could distort memory of an event under different conditions.
  • A strength of this method is that it allows you to study causal relationships because extraneous variables can be controlled easily because procedures and controls can be put in place. Eg Loftus and Palmer was able to control the IV to see if that directlyaffected the DV.
  • Another strength is that the data can be quantified and so is easy to analyse and researchers can make comparisons . This means you can replicate the results and this demonstrates the validity of the findings.
  • A weakness is lab experiments don't represent everyday life as the participants are not emotionally involved and so lack ecological validity. Eg. Foster et al found partcipants who thought they were watching a real robbery gave morre accurate answers.
  • Another weakness is demand characteristics; partcipants may try to guess the aim of the experiment and confor their answers to the experimenters expectations . Eg In Loftus and Palmer participants knew they were taking part in a study and may have tried to give an estrimation of spped that the thought the experimenter wanted to hear.
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Methodology Part 2 - Case study

  • Clive Wearing suffered memory loss from a herpes virus damaging the brain and causing irreversible brain damage. Clive as a result only has a 7 second capacity for short term memory.
  • A strength of this method is it is the most suitable for studying forms of behaviour. Eg. Clive Wearing and his seven second short term memory. It is unethical to create brain damage to study its effect on memory so it is the only way to study memory disorders.
  • Another strength is the data collected is rich, in depth qualitative data and so is important in understanding the reasons behind a persons unique behaviour. People like Clive are willing to be studied over a long period of time to see if there is any improvements in their memory.
  • A weakness is that it lacks generalisablitly due to the cases being small and unrepresentative. Eg. Clive Wearing's case study would be difficult to apply to another person with brain damage.
  • Another weakness is that the research is qualitative rather than quantitative and so could therefore be subjective. Eg. The interpretation of Clive Wearing and his brain disorder could be interpreted differently from researcher to researcher.
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