Psychology Approaches: The cognitive approach

  • Created by: nataliak
  • Created on: 23-01-17 18:53

Cognitive Approach Description

The cognitive approach argues that internal mental processes should be studied scientifically, contrasting to the behaviourist approach. As a result, the cognitive approach has investigated those areas of human behaviour neglected by behaviourists such as memory, perception and thinking. Cognitive psychologists study those indirectly, by making inferences regarding what's going on inside people's minds based on their behaviour.

One way of studying internal processes is through using theoretical models, for example the information processing approach, which suggests that information flows through the cognitive system in a sequence of stages, as in the MSM.

Another way of studying internal processes is through computer models (computer analogy). This is done by suggesting that there are similarities in the way information is processed. These models use concepts of coding and the use of stores to hold information. Such models of the mind have proved useful in the development of artificial intelligence.

Cognitive processing is often affected by beliefs and expectations (schemas). Schemas are packages of information developed through experience. They act as a mental framework for the interpretation of new information. For example, we have a schema for a chair - something with legs you can sit on. This helps us to respond to objects appropriately.

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Cognitive Approach Description

Babies are born with simple motor schemas such as sucking or grasping. As we get older, our schema become much more detailed and sophisticated, for example having a schema for what happens in a restaurant. 

Schemas allow us to process information quickly and it is a mental short-cut that prevents us from being overwhelmed by environmental stimuli. However, schema may also distort our interpretation of sensory information, leading to perceptual errors.

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Key Words for Cognitive Approach

Schema - a mental framework of beliefs and expectations that influence cognitive processing, developed from experience.

Cognitive neuroscience - The scientific study of biological structures that underpin cognitive processes.

Inference - The process where cognitive psychologists draw conclusions about the way mental processes operate on the basis of observed behaviour.

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The emergence of cognitive neuroscience

Cognitive neuroscience is the scientific study of the influence of brain structures on mental processes.

In the last twenty years, with advances in brain imaging techniques such as fMRI and PET scans, neurological basis of mental processes could've been studied. For example, in research involving tasks requiring use of episodic and semantic memory, those techniques were able to show these types of long-term memory may be located on opposite sides of the pre-frontal cortex.

Scanning techniques have also been proved useful in establishing the neurological basis of mental disoders such as OCD

The focus of cognitive neuroscience has expanded to computer-generated models designed to 'read' the brain. This has led to the development of 'brain fingerprinting'. A future application of this could be analysis brain wave patterns of eyewitnesses to determine whether they are lying in court or not.

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Evaluation of the cognitive approach

-Scientific and objective methods. The cognitive approach uses lab experiments to produce reliable and objective data. In addition, cognitive neuroscience resulted in biology and cognitive psychology coming together. This means the approach has a credible scientific basis.
-Machine reductionism. The computer analogy has been criticised. This machine reductionism ignores the influence of human emotion and motivation on the cognitive system and how this could potentially affect our ability to process information. For example, research shows that human memory can be affected by emotional factors such as anxiety.
-Application to everyday life. Cognitive psychology, due to observational research, sometimes suffers from being too theoretical in nature. This means that using artificial stimuli may not represent everyday memory experience, lacking external validity.
-Real life application. Cognitive psychology has been applied to a variety of practical and theoretical contexts, and has made an important contribution in artificial intelligence and the development of 'thinking machines' that might advance the way we live in the future.
-Soft determinism. It recognises that our cognitive system can only operate within the limits of what we know, and we are free to think before responding to a stimulus. This is more reasonable than the hard determinism suggested by other approaches.

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