Psychology - Cognitive Level of Analysis

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  • Created by: Hollie
  • Created on: 08-02-13 17:29

Schema Theory

Schema Theory

A cognitive schema is a network of knowledge, beliefs and expectations about particular aspects of the world. These are built up through our own experiences of life, education and culture. Examples of schemas are the capacity to communicate in English, pick up on the teacher's mood and to drink out of cup without leaving a mess. Cognitive psychology operates on the assumption that our developing schemas guide our behaviour. 

When recalling realities of a situation that interfere with an existing schema, the mind tends to reconstruct what happened along the lines of the schema, even though it could well be incorrect. 

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Reconstructive Memory

The idea of the mind reconstructing what happens along the lines of a schema is called reconstructive memory. This was illustrated in the classic research of Bartlett (1932).

The participants (people with British, Western socio-cultural background) were required to read a short 329-word story "The War of the Ghosts" that was based on a Native American legend. They were not told the purpose of the experiment. After 15 minutes, Bartlett asked them to reproduce the story from memory. He found that as the story was reproduced, it became shorter and more conventional (retaining only the details that western cultural schemas could relate to) but still coherent. 

Bartlett concluded that people reconstruct the past by trying to fit it into schemas - even though it can involve imaginative, but inaccurate reconstruction of the experience. 

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Reconstructive Memory 2

The theory of reconstructive memory is also supported by Loftus and Palmer (1974). 

This experiment involved 45 students who were shown movies of traffic accidents. They had to recall details on the speed of the cars when the accident took place. 

In the experiment, the critical question was 'How fast were the cars going when they hit each other?'. The hypothesis was that when the question was alternatively phrased with different groups, the more emphatic the word in the question, the faster the cars would have been 'recalled' to have been going. 

The results indicated a significant support for the hypothesis. 'Smashed' 'collided' and 'bumped' got significantly faster speed estimates than 'hit' and 'contacted'. The conclusion was that different words activate different schemas in the memory, so that hearing the word 'smashed' caused the memory to reconstruct a more severe picture than hearing the word 'contacted'

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Models of Memory

Cognitive researchers and neuroscientists work together to find out how brain structures are involved in the memory processes. Cognitive psychology breaks the memory process down into 3 aspects:

  • Encoding - entry of information sensed and transformed into the memory system
  • Storage - keeping the information in the memory system
  • Retrieval - accessing the memory store when the information is needed 

Atkinson and Shiffrin and Baddley and Hitch are the two famous models of memory

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Atkinson and Shiffrin's Multi-store model of memor

Atkinson and Shiffrin's multi-store model of memory focuses on memory storage and recall being a linear process.


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Multi-store continued

  • Incoming information that is not attended to is lost. That which is attended to is then passed on to the sensory memory. 
  • Coding into the STM comes next. It needs to be rehearsed in order to keep it in, or it ca be 'displace' and lost. 
  • Coding into the LTM follows. Information can also then be lost through interference. 

In other words, the model regards the memory stores as the structural components of the model. It also proposed control processes, including attention, coding and rehearsal, that cause items to enter and leave the memory store. 


  • Studies such as Clive wearing show a good STM but not LTM, suggesting different stores. 


  • Too simple - it does not take into account the different levels and motivations for processing information. 
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Baddley and Hitch

Baddley and Hitch devised the working memory model. It believes that the working memory is an active store, designed to hold and manipulate information that is currently consciously thought about. It has 3 seperate STM components, each of which all work at the same time and lead to the LTM. 

The Central Executive

  • a controlling attention mechanism with a limited capacity. It decides which information is passed into which one of the three STM systems. 

The STM systems

The phonological loop - deals with sound or phonological information. 

The visual-spatial sketchpad - the inner eye which holds visual and spatial information

The episodic buffer - enables you to recall an interrelated set of phenomena, such as a personal story. 

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Baddley and Hitch continued

Strengths - 

  • Explains multi-tasking, as the STM isn't just one single store
  • The spread of memory functions into different stores explains many STM deficites, such as Clive Wearing or HM.

Weaknesses - 

  • The nature and the role of the central executive is still unclear
  • The need to incorporate the existance of other stores, by evidence of brain-damaged patients. The episodic buffere wasn't added until much later. 
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Amnesia is the inability to learn new information or retrieve information that has already been stored in the memory. Anterograde amnesia is the failure to store memories after brain damage. Retrograde amnesia is the failure to recall memories that have been stored before brain damage. 

In behavioural decision making, this will mean being cut off from past experience and not being able to act with regard to future consequences of the behaviour. 

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The case study of Clive Wearing

Clive Wearing

  • In 1985 Clive Wearing, a distinguished middle-aged musician and musicologist suffered a brain infection, which interfered with memory. 
  • It reduced memory span to a few seconds - practically living in the present only. 
  • His amnesia was mainly anterograde. 
  • He could still perform and conduct music he knew before the infection. 
  • His emotional memory proir to the infection was unaffected. He still loved his wife.
  • This indicates that different memory functions are distributed widles throughout the brain. 
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Discuss how social or cultural factors affect one

Discuss how social or cultural factors affect one cognitive process. 

If you wish to test the memory in a group of people, it is neccessary to have insight into the language and culture of the group. 

Cole and Scribner (1974) study compared the recall of a series of words in the US and in the Kpelle people of rural Liberia. The researchers were aware that the words chosen in Liberian were relevant to the lifestyle and environment of the Kpelle people. 

The researchers asked the Liberian children from different ages groups to recall as many items as possible from 4 categories; utensils, clothes, tools and vegetables. 

It was expected that the older children would score higher, but on investigation that was only true for children attending school. Those who did not attended did not perform substantially better at age 15 than age 10. Those who did attended learnt the lists as rapidly as those in the US, using the same skills for recalling. (Chunking method). 

Strategies for memory are not universal. 

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With reference to relevant research studies, to what extent is one cognitive process reliable?

See reconstructive memory and the work of Bartlett, Loftus and Palmer.

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Discuss the use of technology in investigating cognitive processes.

PET Scanners

This scanning method can record functions in different parts of the brain, such as the way it metabolises glucose, and the blood flow. Reduced metabolism of glucose in the hippocampus part of the brain can indicate the onset of Alzheimer's disease and its associated deterioration of the cognitive process of memory. 

Moscon et al (2005) shows that in a longitudinal sudy of some 50 patients who started out as normal, healthy people, those who showed early signs of reduced metabolism in the hippocampus were associated with later developments of Alzheimer's/ It appears that PET scans could be useful in the very early detection of Alzheimers. 

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MRI and fMRI

MRI and fMRI

These give 3D images of the brain structures and at the same time have the capacity to record changes in the use of oxygen in the blood. When the brain is more active, it uses more oxygen. 

Kilts (2003) investigated the role of the brain in product preferences. The self-selected sample of volunteers were first required to rate the given list of consumer goods in order of preference, assinging points to the degree of attractiveness. Then they were attached to an MRI scanner where they were shown pictures of the same items and asked to rate them again. The study found that everytime a person rated a product as very attractive, the activity in the medial prefrontal cortex also increase. Thus this feeling of 'excitement' is what affect the desicion making process of to buy or not to buy. 

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Cognition and Emotion

Emotions are a combination of biological and cognitive factors. They involve:

  • Physiological changes - involuntary arousing the autonomic nervous system and endocrine system
  • Your own feeling of an emotion - happy
  • Associated behaviour - smiling. 

There are 2 paths of emotion in the brain. When the brain is stimulated (you are very angry) your grasp of the situation goes simultaneously along two rounds - the short and the long route. The short give an animal-type response and is immediate. There is no rationalisation. At the same time, the information is processed in more depth and in a more rational manner. This works through the issue before responding. 

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Emotion affecting a cognitive process

Evaluate one theory of how emotion may affect one cognitive process. 

Flashbulb memory is a special type of emotional memory, which relates to specific events. It not only recalls the even, but brings up emotions that went with the event. 

Brown and Kulik (1977) found that those interviewed said that they had very clear memories of where they were, what they did and what they felt when they first heard the news of JFK's death or Marting Luther King. 

They suggest that there may be a specialised neural mechanism that sets off an emotional arousal because of the deep impression of the event. However, this work has been questioned. Arguements include the fact that events such as JFK's death were huge events, and talked about for a long time, so this could help 'imprint' the memory. 

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