Cognitive Approach in Psychology

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Cognitive Approach

The Cognitive Approach is the dominant way of looking at people in modern psychology. 

One assumption of the cognitive approach :

  • The 'mind' really exists and lends itself to scientific study - we can measure (gather both quantitative and qualitative data) cognitive (mental) processes such as memory, thinking, reasoning, problem solving and language. 
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Describe how the cognitive approach could explain.

Inaccuracy of eye-witness testimony - The cognitive approach enables us to understand that memories are not fixed and unchangeable, but are 'reconstructed' whenever we retrieve memories. For e.g. in the Loftus and Palmer study , the participants had veiwd video-clips of traffic acccidents and had been asked about how fast the cars were going when they SMASHED. This shows that even leading questions can create an inaccuracy of eye witness testimony's. 

Autism/ Asperger syndrome in adults - the cognitive approach would explain autism in terms of a cognitive deficit ( faulty processing) . for e.g. in the Baron Cohen study, Cohen suggested that autistic individuals lack "theory of mind" ToM . This means that they are not able to infer in other people mental states such as emotion or beliefs. Cohen's newly developed ToM test shows that adult autistics have subtle deficits in mind reading. 

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Describe how the cognitive approach could explain.

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Symbol acquisition and use in pygmy chimpanzees - studies of symbol acquisition has led psychologists to believe that chimpanzees, especially pygmy chimpanzees have a true understanding of the meaning of the symbols they acquire - their mental capacities are close to actual human beings. For e.g. in the Savage-Rumbaugh study showed the spontaneous use of symbols without formal training or use of rewards by Kanzi who observed and imitated his mother Matata. He was also able to, by pressing a symbol meaning tree-house, then guide people to the correct ree-house location. also only pygmy chimpanzees could understand spoken English not the common chimps. 

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Describe 1 similarity and 1 difference between...

(EXAMPLE) Baron Cohen/ Savage-Rumbaugh :

  • Similarity - in both cases, researchers relied on observational data to infer the nature of internal cognitive processes. ( OR you could also make  a case that both are quasi-experiments -   savage-rumbaugh compared symbol acquisition is common chimps n pygmy chimps) 
  • Difference - Baron Cohen used a snapshot approach in this study -he did not follow up the development of this autistic/as adults from childhood. Savage Rumbaugh used a longitudinal case study approach ; following up the development of symbol usage in bot pygmy and common chimps over a period of time. 
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  • Allows us to study phenomena which cannot be easily described in terms of externally observable behaviours e.g. Baron Cohen's study of Autism and mind reading shows another side to the behaviour of people with Aspergers or Autism. It helps us understand more on how people with AS or Autism would act in certain situations. 
  • Helps develop better techniques for police in interveiwing witnesses e.g. Loftus and Palmer - the cognitive interveiw showed that leading questions can alter the persons memory by quite a bit ( smashed group being 40.8mph and contacted being 31.8 mph ) so police can learn from this and create better forms of interveiws. 
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  • Tends to ignore emotions; computer-analogy means we reduce people to information - processors and could end up treating them as if they are machines for e.g. in the Baron Cohen study, we don't know from the study how if feels to be autistic or have AS as an adult. We only look at peoples thoughts and logical reasoning but not their feelings which may pose a risk that we don't respect peoples dignity ( possible ethical issue) . 
  • We may have to infer cognitive processes indirectly from our observations for e.g. in Savage-rumbaugh , did the researchers draw the conclusions from their observations of kanzi's use of the lexigrams correctly? As maybe humans can never really get inside the mind of a bonobo due to the fact we are different species? 
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