The Cognitive Approach




RED = key terms

YELLOW = question

  • The Cognitive approach emphasises the importance of cognitive processes such as perception, memory, language and attention which occurs between the stimuli and the response.
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Assumption 1:

1.  (Assumption 1) - Behaviour can be explained by internal mental processes:

This approach suggests that humans are seen as information processors where essential cognitive processes are used together to help us process and make sense of what is going on around us. Some of the most well-studied cognitive processes include:

  • Perception- process by which we take in and make sense of information from our environment.
  • Memory- process by whic we retain and recall information (7=/-2).
  • Language- use of mental symbols to represent information in the mind and help communicate between two people.
  • Attention- process by which we manipulate information in the mind in order to make decisions, solve problems and make judgements.

These four processes work together to help individuals understand their surroundings. We have  to pay attention to the object, perceive it's features and search through our memory store to see if the object matches an existing schema (mental structure that represents an apect of the world, it helps make sense of the world by providing short-cuts).

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Assumption 2:

2. (Assumption 2) - The human mind is compared to a computer:

  • This compares the human mind to a computer and compares how we take in information, store it and then recall it when neccessary. In very basic terms; cognitive psychologists compare how we take in information (input), change it/store it (process) and then recall it when neccessary (output). During the process stage, we actively use the cognitive processes etc. Thus the mind is compared to the hardware of a computer and the cognitive processes with a computers software. INPUT ---> PROCESS ---> OUTPUT.
  • For example: Atkinson & Shiffrin (1968)- multistore model: In this theory, it was proposed that information enters the brain through the senses (i.e. ears, eyes) and moves to short-term memory (STM) store and then to the long-term memory (LTM) store, it is output when the information is required.
  • How could the multistore be measured in an objective, scientific way?  The multistore model has made an important contribution to memory research. This information-processing approach has enabled psychologists to construct testable models of memory and provided the foundation for later important work. Other researchers like Peterson & Peterson and Sperling carried out laboratory experiments on the MSM, this meant that independent variables were manipulated and differences between conditions were compared and control was very high to ensure the research was carried out in an objective and scientific way.
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Attribution Theory (8 marks)

Aim- Aims to explain how we deal with information about people's behaviour to form impressions and the cause of the behaviour.

Heider & Simmel carried out a study showing a short films of shapes (two triangles and a circle) moving in and out of a box to over 100 women. The findings showed that they described the triangle as aggressive & bully-like because the clip showed it following smaller objects. This study shows that people are able to attribute personality traits, even to objects.

  • Heider proposed that; people try to understand behaviour by linking together information until reaching a suitable explanation. These explanations come from two causes:

1. The person- internal (dispositional) factors known as internal attribution where the person is responsible for their own behaviour such as personality traits.

2. The situation- external (situational) factors known as external attribution such as social norms or the individuals luck is responsible for their behaviour.

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Attribution Theory (No.2)

  • Heider suggested that people prefer to make dispositional attributions and called this the Fundamental Attribution Error (FAE). This means we are more likely to attribute internal factors to someone's behaviour instead of external even though external factors are more likely to be the reason. For example: if being served by a rude assistant, we are likely to think the assistant is rude (dispositional) rather than that they are having a bad day (situational). FAE tends to occur in individualistic cultures (means the people are more concerned about themselves as individuals rather than as a collective group i.e. they aim to acheive personal goals not group).
  • (OPTIONAL)- Ross (1977) - observed contestants in a quiz giving answers and were asked to rate their ability. They rated contestants with more correct ansers higher intelligence even though they knew that some contestants had written their own questions.
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Attribution Theory (No.3)

  • Kelly's covariation model (1967) - Suggested that attributions can be explained in terms of covariation. Things the covary are things that tend to happen at the same time such as grey clouds and rain, their covariance that leads us to expect the one thing that causes the other: the covariance of three factors that attributions are determined by:

1. Consistency: Behaving the same way all the time in a given situation. For example: John always laughs at a particular comedian (high consistency) or John sometimes finds this comedian funny (low consistency). 2. Distinctiveness: Behaving the same way in different situations, that one person behaves the same way for different stimuli. For example John laughs only at this comedian (high distinctiveness) or John laughs at most comedians (low distinctiveness). 3. Consensus: Whether other people act the same way in this situation. The extent to which there is agreement among people. For example everyone laughs at this comedian (high consensus) or only some people find this comedian funny (low consensus).

  • Internal attributions occur when: Consistency is high, distinctiveness is low annd consensus is low (HLL).
  • External attributions occur when: Consistency is low, distinctiveness is high, consensus is low (LHL) or all three are high. (HHH).
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Attribution Theory (No.4)

Biases in the attribution process:

Fundamental Attribution Errors (FAE) - example of predictions people tend to make when making attributions. Refers to our tendancy to attribute an external casualty to our own behaviour, but we are likely to see the cause of other people's behaviour as being due to a stable personality dimension.

Actor / Observer bias - we prefer to explain our own behaviour in terms of situations and the behaviours of others in terms of dispositional factors.

  • Nisbett asked to study why participants selected a particular course to study relating to themselves and a friend. They made situational attributions to themselves and dispositional to their friends.
  • Self-serving bias - we take credit for our success and disassociate from our families blaming external factors in order to protect our self-esteem and give us a feeling of control.
  • Jones et al arranged for participants to teach two students and the "teachers" attributed failures to the pupils but success to themselves.
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Rational Emotive Therapy - RET (12 marks)

RET- A form of cognitive therapy, aims to change irrational and negative thinking patterns that cause distress (i.e mental health problems) into rational and reasonable thoughts and positive ways of thinking, by changing cognitions, we can therefore reprogramme ourselves.

Link to assumption- Cognitive psychologits assume that internal mental processes (the way that we think) affects our behaviour and emotions so that unhealthy thoughts then lead too unhealthy behaviour. This means that emotions and psychological problems can be attributed to distortions of our thought processes.

Mustabatory thinking- source of irrational beliefs that come from mustabatory thinking which is thinking that particular ideas must be true in order for an individual to be happy. Albert Ellis suggested that irrational thoughts are key to how people respond to negative life events

  • e.g. demanding- changing a "want" to a "need" i.e. 'i need to win this match'.
  • e.g. awfulizing it will be "awful" if i don't pass my exams.
  • e.g. low frustration it would be "unbearable" if i don't pass my exams.
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Rational Emotive Therapy (No.2)

ABC model- Ellis developed the ABC model of behaviour to show how irrational thinking can lead to maladaptive behaviour.

A = activating event, B = the belief the person has about the activating event, C = the emotional or behavioural consequences.

  • Logical disputing- self-defeating beliefs that they do not follow logically from the information available e.g. 'does thinking this way make sense?'
  • Empirical disputing- self-defeating beliefs may not be consistent with reality e.g. 'wehere is the proof that this belief is accurate?'
  • Pragmatic disputing- this emphasises the lack of usefullness of self-defeating beliefs e.g. how is this belief likely to help me?'

Unconditional positive regard: Ellis (1994) came to recognise that an important ingredient in successful therapy was convincing the client of their value as a human being. If the client feels worthless, they will be less willing to consider changing their beliefs and behaviour. However, if the therapist provides respect and appreciation regardless of what the client does and says this will make the change in beliefs and attitudes easier.

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Rational Emotive Therapy (No.3)

Research Evidence: RET- has generally done well in outcome studies (designed to measure the outcome of treatment) for example..

  • Ellis (1957) claimed a 90% success rate of participants out of an average 27 sessions for each client to complete RET. However he recognised that the therapy was not always effective and suggested that this could be because some patients did not put their beliefs into action. Later on in 2001, he also explained a possible lack of success in terms of suitability- some people simply do not want the direct sort of advice RET practioners tend to give.
  • Haaga and Davison claimed that RET is effective for anger, aggression, and depression, although not as effective as systematic desensitsation.
  • For example in a meta-analysis Engles et al condluded that RET is effective for a number of different disorders.
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Two strengths (4 marks)

  • Applications - The approach has been used to influence psychology as  it has provided useful techniques to improve memory and has been applied to therapies e.g. It has been applied to things like police interviews of eyewitnesses and helped develop the 'cognitive interview' which improves the accuracy of EWT. It is also used in rational emotive therapy where a 90% success rate was found by Ellis. This has helped to broaden the understanding of the social world/people around us and why we form specfic sterotypes. This is a strength because cogntive therapies don't just increase our understanding, they have practical applications in the real world.
  • Scientific - Lends itself to scientfic research. It uses an empiral approach meaning that the theories have been tested using laboratory experiments which are highly relable and variables are controlled to allow casual realtionships to be found. It has many models i.e. memory models and perceptual illusions that show the mind processes information from the environment surrounding us. e.g Hieder and Simmel in the attribution theory where they conducted a study looking at videos of triangles and circles, the particpants attributed characteristics like aggresiveness and bully-like behaviour to the objects.
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Two weaknesses (6 marks)

  • Nature and Nurture - According to the cognitive approach, we accquire schemas through our life experiences. Therefore, we become what we are because of interactions with the environment (environmental determinism). It considers internal and external factors on behaviour as it looks at the internal processes on the mind and the role of experience through schemas which is external. However, it ignores the imporant factors of nature and nurture such as genes in human cognition and social/cultural factors.
  • Reductionist (and Mechanist)- It shows human behaviour as being like a machine so ignores social and emotional factors on behaviour and is therefore reductionist e.g. the attribution theory suggests there are certain rules that predict when someone will make dispositional or situational attributions. However is has been proven that there are many exceptions to these rules so they do not accurately apply.  (GUYS MODEL ANSWER)- "This approach has been criticised for being mechanistic and reductionist. Cognitive psychology draws an anology between computers and the human brain. However, computers are not influenced by emotions or culture, the human brain is more sophisticated than a computer. This is a weakness because it largely ignores social, motivational and emotional factors and oversimplifies the complexities of human behaviour."
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Methodology- laboratory experiments (12 marks)

This is a scientfic method used to carry out an experiment, it is carried out in a controlled environment where all variables and conditions are controlled by the experimenter.

Example: Loftus and Palmer controlled the conditions of their experiment (about leading questions), by ensuring that all participants watched the same video of a car crash. All participants were asked the same questions, (with changes to the leading question). In the first experiment, the independent variable was the word used to describe the impact between the cars and the dependent variables was the participants' estimates of the speed of the car.

:)- Experimenter had full control over the variables meaning a cause and effect relationship can be verified and trusted results can be found :)- Easily be replicated due to the fact that all the variables have been controlled- this means that the study will be highly reliable as it is possible to redo the study and the results should be consistent. :)- Generalizability- If a representative sample has been selected, the results can be generalised to the wider population.

:(- lack of ecological validity as it does not reflect real life situations because it is carried out in an artificial environment. :(- Demand Characteristics may occur as people might adjust their behaviour to fit the aims of the study and may behave in the way they think they should rather than how they naturally would.

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Methodology- Case studies (12 marks)

A case study is a study that is carried out over a long period of time and looks specifically at one individual. The understanding of memory and perception has been improved by looking at individuals with whose memory or perception is in some way extra-ordinary.

Example: Cognitive psycholgoists therefore have used case studies of individuals with amnesis e.g. Clive Wearing (a man suffering from amnesia), to gain an insight into the human memory and the effects on an individual who has had their memory or perception affected in an extra-ordinary way. However, cognitive psychologists would generally use their observations from case studies to make hypotheses and theories which are then tested in laboratories.

:)- Produces highly in depth information and produces detailed findings which allow us to fully understand the topic or area that is being studied. Case studies may allow us to find data and findings that may have been missed if another method was used.

:)- High ecological validity as they study real life people in their natural surroundings during their normal everyday lives and routines.

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