Cognitive Psychology

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The cognitive level focuses on how people think and how people's thinking affects their behavior


  • Mental representations and processes guide behavior
  • Models of mental processes can be proposed and investigated scientifically
  • Cognitive processes are influenced by social and cultural factors

Principles of the Cognitive Level Demonstrated in Theories and Research

  • Bottom-up processing
  • Top-down processing
  • Schema theory and the War of Ghosts (Bartlett, 1920)
  • Self-schema theory (Markus, 1977)
  • Reconstructive Memory and Eyewitness Testimony (Loftus & Palmer, 1974)
  • Distinction between basic cognitive research (understand fundamentals) and applied cognitive research (specific real-world issues)

Research Methods

  • Experiments
  • Observations
  • Interviews
  • Ethical Considerations

Cognitive processes

Evaluation of Schema Theory

  • Bartlett's Schema Theory
  • Office schema experiment (Brewer & Treyens, 1981) - degree of ecological validity
  • Self-schemas are stable and fixed in adults (Markus, 1977)
  • The Fluid Self - self-schemas are malleable (Onorato & Turner, 2004)
  • It is unclear how schemas develop and how they influence cognitive processes
  • Schema as a concept is too vague to be of any use (Cohen, 1993)

Models of Cognitive Processes

  • Multi-store Memory Model (Atkinson & Schiffrin, 1968)
  • Working Memory Model (Baddeley & Hitch, 1974) Strengths
  • Decision-making
    • Heuristics
    • Representative
    • Availability
    • Illusory Correlations
    • Hindsight Bias

Biological Factors Affect Memory

  • Lesions
  • Alzheimer's Disease
  • Role of Hippocampus in Animals vs. Humans
  • Role of amygdala in emotional memories
  • Different lesions affect memory in rats and humans
  • Role of ACh in memory

Biological Factors Affect Decision-making

Social and Cultural Factors Influence Perception

  • Individuals in Dominican Republic with pseudohermaphroditia guevedoce (='testicles at 12 years old') also called machi-embra (=male-female) viewed as a gift from god (Imperato-McGinley et al., 1974, 1979) compared to similar individuals in US as unfortunate or suffering)

Extent of Reliability of Cognitive Processes

  • Reconstructive memory in eyewitnesses (Loftus & Palmer, 1974)
    • Yuille & Cutshall (1986) crticize Loftus's findings on the grounds of ecological validity after they found that people who witnessed a real robbery were unaffected by leading questions
  • Factors influencing recognition of eyewitness like familiarity with the subject (Burton et al. 1999; see Result 2)
  • Decision-making reliability
    • Hindsight bias
    • Representative bias
    • Availability bias
    • Illusory correlation
    • Confirmation bias

Use of Technology to Investigate Cognitive Processes

  • PET to record live thinking by recording metabolic activity of radioactive glucose in regions of the brain
    • Used to investigate role of hippocampus in Alzheimer's
  • MRI and fMRI to detect changes in oxygen levels in the blood of brain regions
    • Has been used in marketing research and problem solving
  • Mirror neurons and imitation and social learning

Cognition and emotion

Extent that Cognitive and Biological Factors Interact in Emotion

Appraisal Theory (Lazarus, 1975)
  • People make a cognitive evaluation of how a situation will impact them
  • Positive appraisal of a potential benefit leads to positive emotion
  • Negative appraisal of a threat or loss leads to negative emotion
  • Individual experience of stress differs (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984)
    • Depends on your resources for dealing with stress such as family and friends, beliefs about yourself (e.g. self-esteem and confidence) and the way you relate to the world
  • Different strategies used for coping (Folkman & Lazarus, 1988)
    • Problem-focused to change or manipulate situation
    • Emotion-focused to deal with emotions instead of changing the situation
  • Genital surgery video experiment (Speisman et al., 1964)
    • Investigate if emotional reactions to events can be manipulated
    • Trauma condition - pain emphasized by soundtrack in video
    • Denial condition - participants acted happy to have the surgery
    • Intellectualization condition - soundtrack gave an objective anthropological viewpoint of the genital surgery
    • Participants respond more emotionally to trauma condition suggesting it is the individual's interpretation of the event (person in video experiencing pain, acting happy or being analyzed) that affect the emotional stress rather than the event itself
    • Evaluation
      • Artificial video study - ecological validity
      • Researchers used deception and put participants in a potentially uncomfortable situation

Evaluate One Theory of How Emotion May Affect One Cognitive Process

Flashbulb Memories
  • Brown and Kulick (1977) argue flashbulb memories are special memories not subject to decay and inaccuracy like 'normal' memories
  • Current research claims that our confidence in flashbulb memories characterizes our perceived accuracy and vividness of the events and flashbulb memories are subject to the same inaccuracies as everyday memories (Talariko & Rubin, 2003)
  • Role of amygdala affects how so-called flashbulb memories are encoded which explains why vividness of flashbulb memories remains even if the details of the memory are inaccurate
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Trauma disturbs perception and thinking
  • Intrusive memories affect daily life
  • Use of propranolol to reduce impact of traumatic experiences (Pitman, 2005)

Additional Resources