What is Cognitive Process Psychology?

What is Cognitive Process Psychology?

Jan 30, 2015 | 8:00 am

The Thoughts That Count

One of the greatest advances in psychology was its identification of the area of the brain that was largely responsible for language production and the corresponding area for language comprehension. From these rudimentary understandings of brain functions, scientists were able to determine how other areas of the brain, such as the cerebellum, the motor cortex, and the parietal lobe controlled our cognitive processing. Our brain map now allows us to pinpoint regions of the brain that process our motor movement, vision, hearing, speech, smell, taste and facial recognition.

Although we have a deeper understanding of the biological aspects of the brain, the mystery into how these regions affect our thought processes and behaviors continues. Cognitive processes in psychology seek to discover how the brain works in terms of focused awareness of perceptual information (attention), memory (procedural, semantic and episodic), perception, language and meta-cognition, which is the individual’s own awareness of their thought processes.

Early Interests

The cognitive processes in psychology were only loosely woven in with behavioral studies until the early part on the twentieth century. While giving intelligence tests to school children during the 1920’s, Swiss psychologist, Jean Piaget, developed an interest in how children think. His experiments involved a series of tasks and questions for children of various ages, designed to measure their ability to reason within abstract and concrete concepts such as time, numbers, morality, and nature, among others. From his studies, Piaget theorized that children go through a series of predictable cognitive stages from infancy to adolescence, leaving behind an outline for normal early childhood development.

Behaviorist, B.F. Skinner, attributed for his work in conditioning and reinforcement studies, also exhibited an interest in cognitive processes in psychology. He theorized that language was operant conditioning, that children learned language in much of the same way a rat learns to be rewarded with a pellet by learning to open a door. After learning how to operate the door once, their knowledge was reinforced by a consistent reward. However, American linguist, Noam Chomsky challenged the theory. His studies concluded that children around the world learn and process language at more or less the same age, without being implicitly taught or rewarded for their efforts. Chomsky hypothesized that the human ability to process language was innate and that the brain is naturally equipped to learn language. With the biological identification of areas of the brain that process language function, Skinner’s theory became obsolete.

Hard Wired to Learn

The introduction of the computer added momentum to cognitive processes of psychology. Computers were a physical, applicable means of comprehending how information is acquired, processed, stored and retrieved to produce responses. Using the metaphor, cognitive psychologists were able to formulate information-processing models for human thoughts and behaviors.

Modern day cognitive psychologists generally address the psychology of the brain from the dual process theory, which was introduced by Jonathan Haidt in 2006 and elaborated on by Daniel Kahneman in 2011. The dual process theory states that there are two types of processing styles, intuitive and reason. Intuitive reasoning was similar to associative reasoning. It was strong, fast and automatic, usually entailing strong emotional bonds within the reasoning process. Kahneman determined that this style of reasoning was very difficult to change and was often formed from established habits.

On the other hand, the style derived from reason was much slower, yet far more volatile as the processing is based on conscious judgments and attitudes. Our conscious decisions are based on our attention to perceptual information, our memories, and our own awareness of our thought processes. As our knowledge of cognitive process psychology expands, we will become more capable of identifying the sources for cognitive dysfunctions and designing treatments that will help rebuild areas of the brain that have been damaged by trauma, injury, disease or hereditary factors.