Cognitive Psychology


Definitions and key terms

Cognitive psychology studies mental processes such as memory, perception, language(, and problem-solving.

We cannot see these processes take place; we can only see the end results in the way people behave.

It is a mechanistic approach:

  • People are like machines
  • Human cognitive processes are like a computer - the brain has inputs, processesstorage( term( and long term memory) and outputs (including behaviour)


  • Behaviour is explained in terms of how the mind works.
  • The mind works like a computer, we input, store, process(, retrieve and output data.
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Levels of processing

Craik & Lockheart 1972 - 

They suggests that how well a piece of information is remembered depends on how it is processed, that memory is thus a by-product of the general processing of information in the mind. 

Information can be processed deeply or shallowly. Craik defined depth of processing as the amount of meaning that was extracted from the information. 

Three levels of processing - 

  • Structural - Shallowest processing as this is what things look like. 
  • Phonetic - Deeper processing as this is what things sound like.
  • Semantic - Deepest processing as this is what something means.
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Levels of processing Evaluation

Elias & perfetti supports the theory as they collected the same results. That words were processed semantically more than words processed phonetically or sturturally. Thissupports the theory as it supports that semantic words are processed deeper which leads to better memory/recall.

Craik & Tulving supports the thery as it shows that deeper processing of words helps them to be remembered for example semantic words were remembered more than words that require less processing (structural and phonetic). This supports the theory as it supports that semanitc words have deeper processing and therefore lead to better recall. 

Morris is a negative of the theory as they found that phonetic words were processed more than semantic. This highlights that what is actually being recalled is more important than depth of processing, this is a negative because it rejects the theory saying that semantic is processed more than phonetic. 

Reductionism critises the theory as it reduces and over-simplified memory. It can only explain the recalled explicit memory not implicit.

The theory is unable to explain it properly, as it s a cirular logic. we recall due to deeper processing and deeper processing leads to better recall. (approach)

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Craik & Tulving 1975

Aim - To see whether words that were processed for their meaning would be better remembered than words that were processed for information about their appearance or sound.

Procedure - This was a lab experiment. 20 university studentes were given lists of 60 one-two syllable words via a tachistoscope. The participants had to answer one of three questions about each word, to which the answers where always yes/no. some questions required the participants to process the word deep way and others in a shallow way. 

Question examples- 

  • Semantic - "does this word go in this sentence" 
  • Sturctural - "Is the word in capital letters or small letters"
  • Phonetic - "does this word rhyme with"

Ppts were than given a list of 180 words into which the original words were mixed. They were asked to pick out the original words. 

Results - ppts recognised semantic words the most compared to phonetic and stuctural words

  • 15% - Stuctural 
  • 35% - Phonetic
  • 70% - Semantic
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Conclusion & Evaluation of Craik & Tulving

Conclusion - Semantically processed words involve elaboration rehearsal and deep processing which results in more accurate recall. Phonetic and stuctural processed words involve shallow processing and less accurate recall. 

Generalisability - Can be generalised because people cognitive ability doesnt differ to widely. Students at a uni might be better and more used to processing semantically. 

Reliability - Lab experiment, so control conditions. standardised instructions. If it was repeated could produce the same results. Accessable sample of people. 

Applicability - adverts - makes things more or less memorable. -theme tunes + prices - Phonetic + structural schools - Revision + teaching done semantically.

Validity - Low face validity - cant be 100%sure level of processing is how you remember. Low ecological validity - lab experiment  - demand characteristics. - Low task validity - not a normal situation. 

Ethics - Pretty good. 

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Reconstructive memory

Bartlett broken down into three main features - 

  • Imaginative Reconstruction
    •  imaginative reconstruction of past events, influenced by our attitudes and our response to those events at the time they occured. Retrieval of stored memories this involves an active process of reconstruction. Whenever we try to recall an event, we actively piece it together wusing a rnage of information 
    • Levelling - Making the events simpler
    • Sharpening - Highlighting and overemphasising certain details
    • Assimilating - Changing details to fit one's personal personal background / knowledge base. 
  • Schemas -
    • Mental structuresthat hold past experiences and expectations and could influence memories. 
  • Stereotyping - 
    • Making assumptions about someone based on what you've seen in past events.
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Reconstructive memory Evaluation

Bartletts theory was high in ecological validity because it was a natural everyday occurence as you get told stuff and recall it every single day. 

Wynn and Logie found that it was no variation on detailthis suggested that there was no imaginative reconstruction.

Wynn and logie found that it was the nature of the story that made it difficult to recall not our imaginitive technique.

Does not explain how memory is stored. It is over simplified. 

It is difficult to measure how much people are levelling, assimilating and sharpening.

Makes memory more efficient and improves interview techniques and eye whitness testimonies.

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Cue Dependency

Tulving 1975 - 

'Tip of the tounge' in which we know we know something but are temporarily unable to retrieve it. 

Tulving proposed that forgetting takes place when we have the information we are seeking in our memory, but we lack the necessary cues to access it. Cues are additional pieces of info that guide us to the info we are seeking, rather like the contents page of a book. 

State cues - the physical state can then act as a cue to help you remember

Context cues - The environment that you are in can act as a cue to help you remember. 

Encoding specificity programme - When we encode a new memory we also store information that occured around it, such as the way we felt and the place we were in. if we cannot remember, it could be because we are not in a similar situation to when the memory was originally stored. "the greater the similarity between the encoding event and retrieval event, the greater the likelihood of recalling the original memory" 

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Evaluation of Cue Dependency

Baker et al (2004) looked at whether chewing gum could act as a context cue. They found that when gum was present or absent in both situations more words were recalled. This supports the theory as it shows that context cues do play a part in forgetting.

Schab found that the smell of chocolate can be a strong cue to aid recall, as they would of smelt chocolate when learning, When recalling if they smelt chocolate they had the right cue and so had accessability to past memories, which lead to better recall.

It does not explain why some emotionally charged memories remain vivid in the absense of cues and why we generally tend to recall happy material rather than sad material, which shows that the theory looks too much into context cues more than state cues.

The theory only explains memory in the long-term, it cannot explain short-term memory.

It is difficult to define and measure the concepts the theory uses, e.g. it is hard to determine what excisits as a cue in general or how to clearly distinguish between state and context cues.

Cue dependency does explain the 'tip of the tounge' phonomena. It also explains the experience of returning to an old haunt and suddenly recalling events that took place there. 

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Godden & Baddeley's study of divers (1975)

Aim - to see whether wourds would be better remembered when recalled in the same environment than in a very different environment. The two environments where: 15ft underwater or on a beach (land)

Procedure - 13 male and 5 female professional divers, from a diving club, that were on a holiday in scotland. The divers chose where to dive. This was done under lab conditions (as much as it could). The divers had to learn a list of 36 one-two syllable words, and then asked to recall them. in one of two conditions:

  • Condition 1 - either 'dry-dry' or 'wet-wet' 
  • Condtion 2 - either 'dry-wet' or 'wet-dry'

All participants had to endure all conditons, therefore this was repeated measures. And in order to control for the possibility that changing location affected recall, a recognition test was also given. 

Results - when the setting for learning and retrieval were the same, the more recognised words were recalled.

  • Land-land - 37%
  • Water-water - 32%
  • Land-water - 24%
  • Water-land - 23%

Conclusion - Context is a retrieval cue, and when the cognitive environment at recall is the same at encoding, forgetting is less.

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Evaluation Godden & Baddeley

Generalisability - Everyones memory works in the same way so it is generalisable, however the divers used were professional and so this would aid recall + affect results. The sample was very exclusive and unrepresentative, as they were all experienced and this would of made them act differently, thus affecting results. 

Reliability - Its reliable because the word delivery and timing for each word was taped and standardised, which means it could be repeated easily, However divers picked there locations to dive which would make repeating difficult. They had alot of controls such as depth they went to. 

Applicability - The study can be applied where learning occurs the info needs to be recalled, such as in schools which would indicate that you should learn where recall will take place, e.g. exam halls. Supports cue dependency theory, this means that the encoding specificity rule applies to the study + application. 

Validity - The ecological validity has field experiment features but is low as its not a real-life situation, you wouldnt have to do a recognition test of 108 words underwater, everyday, making the task validity, also low. The face validity is good as they did measure what they set out to measure. 

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Repression Theory

Freuds theory 

We deliberatley forget facts or events that cause us anxiety.

  • Traumatic event is unconsiously retained in the mind.
  • The events that cause us stress are usually unhappy but as a defence mechanism used by the unconsious we forget them.
  • We are unaware of this process, they take the emotion and make them unavailable to us. 
  • The energy of emotion behind the memory transforms into atypical behaviours (mental health issues)
  • Repression can range from forgetting certain details to forgetting the whole event. We can recall memory but not the emotion. 
  • People are more likely to remember happy memories as they dont cause stress or anxiety. 
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Evaluation of repression

Walker et al (1997) had ppts keep a diary of good and bad events for a few weeks. When tested later they recalled the pleasant memories better than the bad ones, suggesting they may have been repressed, which supports the theory that bad memories/event are usually sent to the unconsious.

Bernsten (2002) asked students to recall really positive or negative memories. She found they recalled more details from the negative events. This is showing the opposite to repression and therefore rejects the theory. 

Most people do not actually forget traumatic events unless they are unconsious at the time of the event. This means it does not apply to everyone and the idea is oversimplified memory as not all aspects can be explained e.e why we sometimes forget happy memories. 

The concepts are hard to find e.g. its unconsious so it cannot be measured + they are difficult to distinguish without studies, However due to ethical guidelines we cannot inflict trauma. 

It is applicable to cases where thrauma has been forgotten + can explain why they foregt e.g. eye whitness testomonies. 

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Key issue

"Are eye-whitness testomonies reliable?" (MUST BE PUT AS A QUESTION)

The role of schema's - Bartlett suggests that memory involves reconstructing material to ensure it makes sense and fits our schemas. There is likely to be confabulation, whereby someone will add to the memory in order to make it make more sense. There is also rationalisation which means that features will be forgotten, again to make what the eye-whitness has seen make sense.

Cue dependency - The problem with eye-whitness testomonies is that they are often recalled in the police station or at a law court, which means the right context cues will not be available, therefore things will be forgotten and missed out which may lead to an unfair sentencing. 

Levels of processing -  Eye-whitnesses are usually asked how people look, now as we know that deeper processing often leads to better recall, however just seeing how things look (structural) is the shallowest of processing, therefore not as many things will be remember and therefore they will gain less information. 

Loftus - carried out many studies on unreliable testimonies, including a study by loftus and palmer (1975) which showed that when a verb in a question was changed, it affected the response to the question. This suggested that leading questions guide eye-whitness testimonys.

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Evidence of practice

Aim - to see if learning and recall is the same when one condition hears music throughout or hears it at learning and then not at recall,  will effect how much info is recalled.

Sampling - opportunity sampling as unethica to gain access to school details. 

Hypothesis - The people in condition 1 (where music is played at learning and recall) will recall more words than condition 2 (where music is played at learning but not at recall). 

Null hypothesis - there will be no difference between condition 1 and condition 2. 

Procedure - We got 10 ppts in condition 1 and 10 in condition 2 (these where done at different times). We gave them a list of 15 words to try and memorise in 1:30. We then had a 30 second break, and then gave them 45 seconds in order to write down as many words as they could remember. 

  • Condition 1  - when music was played throughout
  • Condition 2 - when music was played at learning but not recall.

Results - we found that conditon 1 recalled more words than condition 2 ppts did,

Conclusion - Condition 1 ppts had available cues in the music and were therefore able to recall more words, than condition 2.  

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