The Cognitive Approach

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Key terms:

Cognitive approach - the term 'cognitive' has come to mean 'mental processes', so this approach focuses on how our mental processes (e.g. thoughts, perceptions, attention) affect behaviour.

Internal mental processes - 'private' operations of the mind such as attention and memory that mediate between stimulus and response. 

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

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

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

Basic assumptions of the cognitive approach;

1) The cognitive approach uses models (theoretical and computer) to explain mental processes.

2) Internal mental processes can be studied in an objective and scientific way using experiments.

3) Cognitive processing is affected by schemas - beliefs and expectations.

Theoretical and computer models;
One way to try and understand internal processes is through the development and testing of theoretical models. Such models are akin to the models or type of programming used with computers, e.g. flowcharts. One such model is the information processing approach which suggests that information flows through the cognitive system in a sequence of stages that include input storage and retrieval, as in the multi-store model of memory. 

Therefore, the cognitive approach uses computer models, where the mind is compared to a computer (computer analogy) by suggesting there are similarities in the way information is processed. These models use the concepts of the central processing unit (the brain), the concept of coding (to turn information into a useable format) and the use of 'stores' to hold information. Such computational models of the mind have proved useful in the development of 'thinking machines' or artificial intelligence.

The role of the schema;
Cognitive processing can be affected by a person's beliefs or expectations, often referred to as a schema. Schema's are 'packages' of ideas and information developed through experience. As we go through life, we develop representations of how things look and how things work. Schema's act as a mental framework for the interpretation of incoming information; for example you have a schema for a chair - four legs, a flat surface on top and a back. Through experience, you have developed a schema for a…


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