The cognitive approach


What is the cognitive approach?

The cognitive approach began to emerge in the 1960s after researchers critisised the behaviourist approach for not taking into account internal mental processes in behaviour.

This approach assumes that the internal processes of the mind (for example, our thought processes) should be studied using controlled laboratory studies.

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Assumptions of the cognitive approach:

The cognitive approach is based on two assumptions:

  • Internal processes can be studied in laboratories by inferring the actions of the mind from behaviour seen.
  • The human mind works like a computer, with input from the senses and output in the form of behaviour.
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The role of schema:

Schemas are unique 'packets' of information that we use to interpret our world.

They come from experiences we have encountered and help us to predict what is going to happen in a new situation.

This means they form the unique way we all interpret this world around us.

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Theoretical models:

The cognitive approach uses theoretical models to represent internal mental processes, such as the multi-store model as a representation of how memory works.

This enables us to consider how the brain processes information by thinking in terms of different structures and what each of them does.

By breaking down the processes into component parts, researchers can more easily test the individual elements of the theory.

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Computer models:

The cognitive approach has also used the development of computers to create computer models of mental processing.


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Cognitive neuroscience:

Recently, cognitive neuroscience has emerged as a new area of research.

This is the scientific study of how different areas of the brain are involved in mental processes such as memory or perception.

The use of brain scanning techniques such as PET or fMRI scans means it is now possible to see the function of the brain while different behaviours are being performed.

For example, different areas of the brain have been found to activate when recalling episodic memories and procedural memories.

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  • The cognitive approach is highly scientific because of the emphasis on controlled laboratory research in studying the mind.
  • The cognitive approach has many useful applications, such as in treatments for depression and the development of artificial intelligence.
  • It has been argued that the approach simplifies human behaviour too much because it ignores the role of human emotions and motivations in behaviour.
  • Because cognitive research tends to take place in laboratories, it could be thought to lack validity as the processes studied may be artificial.
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