Cognitive Psychology or Cognitivism: A Complete Guide with Questions and Answers

What is cognitive psychology? Who are its main authors? What are their characteristics? What is its history? What can you give us? In this article we will talk about the exciting study of mental processes. Find out everything you need to know about cognitive psychology. If you have any questions, or want to share your experience with us, you can leave us your comments below and we will respond. 

Cognitive psychology can be defined as a branch of psychology that is in charge of studying our mental and cognitive processes. In other words, this discipline addresses everything that happens in our brain. For example, our ability to reason, think, perception, memory, attention and concentration, planning, problem solving, learning, etc …

Cognitive psychology seeks to understand our mental processes and explain how they intervene in our behavior and conduct.

Although cognitive psychology is relatively young, it has quickly become popular, and has become one of the most widely used branches of psychology today. In this article, we answer all your questions and tell you everything you need to know about cognitive psychology.

Table of Contents

Cognitive psychology: definition and importance

Cognitive psychology or cognitivism can be defined as a branch of psychology that studies the mental processes related to knowledge.

It is a strand linked to artificial intelligence and analyzes psychological processes such as perception, memory, attention or learning. It is booming today and helps us understand various topics such as those that we will discuss below.

The emergence of neuropsychological assessment tools such as those offered by CogniFit has been fundamental for cognitive psychology. This leading technology allows studying the brain function of children and adults, assessing important cognitive abilities and establishing a relationship with the main cognitive disorders. The program is accessible for professionals in the health sector or schools, but also for private users who want to know their brain function.

If you want to assess your own brain function, that of your children or patients, I recommend that you try the CogniFit Online Cognitive Test : Quickly and clinically assess important cognitive functions, identify weaknesses and strengths in the areas of  memory ,  attention and concentration ,  executive functions ,  coordination ,  planning, etc … The comprehensive results report provided by this neuropsychological test is very useful to help determine if the cognitive changes a person experiences are normal, or may be a reflection of some neurological disorder. Get your results in less than 30-40 minutes. CogniFit is the most recommended cognitive assessment tool used by professionals.

Applications of Cognitive Psychology What is it used for?

Cognitive psychology or cognitivism has multiple practical applications: It is aimed at providing techniques and tools that allow patients to recover, for example, after a stroke or brain injury, to slow down the effects of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s symptoms , or to offer effective treatments to improve the symptoms of learning disorders such as dyscalculia , dyslexia or ADHD .

Understanding how people process information enables psychologists, researchers, and family members to understand the human brain more deeply, and to help people improve the symptoms of their psychological difficulties.

Cognitive psychology: A bit of history

Throughout history, the mental life of people has been an interesting topic for various thinkers. Part of the first figures of psychology, such as William James or Wilhelm Wundt, already theorized about cognitive processes such as consciousness. However, cognitive psychology emerged in the middle of the last century.

In the 1950s, behaviorism was the main paradigm in this science. This approach is limited to observable behavior, disregards introspection, usually extrapolates results obtained with animals to people and neglects mental processes. It studies human behavior in the laboratory and is scientifically valid for its rigor. But it is too limited to explain the variability of human psychology.

On the other hand, psychoanalysis was the other mainstream. This aspect, popularized by Freud, focused on the subconscious and on development during childhood. Both perspectives neglected mental processes. The discontent they generated laid the foundation for the cognitive revolution to emerge, which emerged strongly.

The cognitive revolution

This new course opened the door to the study of the black box, which is the gap between stimuli and responses that behaviorists ignored. Great theorists emerged who transformed psychology (we will name some in the next section) belonging to various disciplines; like computing, communication or linguistics.

Cognitive psychology began to imagine the mind as a computer that processes information through different programs and with certain capacities. This computational metaphor allows us to draw parallels that help us better visualize the human mind .

However, they do not study all the contents in this way, beliefs or expectations are more abstract concepts than the number of elements that we are able to retain. Great strides are currently being made from a cognitive perspective, and it appears that this will continue to be a fundamental approach for psychology to progress.

Cognitive psychology: 10 essential authors and their contributions

Since the last century there have been several famous people in this field. Here we present a selection with part of its maximum exponents.

1 Bartlett

This psychologist is one of his first antecedents. He was a student of memory and types of memory . I observed it in everyday situations and analyzed how we modify it ourselves.

2 Bruner

He was a great developmental psychologist. It focused on how we treat information. He talked about learning  as a process instead of conceiving it as an end product.

3 Turing

He is the creator of the “Turing machine”, which is an abstract device that simulates human thought. It serves to create representations that allow us to investigate mental processes.

4 Miller

According to this psychologist, the working memory can contain more or less seven sequences of information. However, we can group the data to retain more elements. Together with Gallanter and Pribram, he wrote a manifesto of cognitive psychology called Plans and the Structure of Behavior (1960).

5 Festinger

He is the author of the theory of cognitive dissonance, which describes how important it is for us to maintain our beliefs, the processes we carry out to preserve them, and how complex it is to change them.

6 Broadbent

This cognitive psychologist maintained that our attention processes data serially. That is, when we listen to several voices at the same time, we can only attend to one and ignore the rest.

7 Neisser

He coined the term “cognitive psychology.”

8 Gestalt psychologists

His maxim stated that “the whole is more than the sum of its parts.” That is, our mind perceives reality through the senses and gives rise to a new perception through our interpretation.

9 Shannon and Weaver

They made great contributions to the field of communication and information theory. They developed a famous mathematical model that includes the main elements of the communication process.

10 Chomsky

His main contribution to the field of cognitive psychology was made through linguistics. His proposal for transformational grammar contrasts with grammar based on behavioral associations between stimuli.

What can cognitive psychology provide us? Its main applications

Cognitive psychology has provided us with theories that can be applied in many areas of our lives.

Basic investigation

This approach is a great help when investigating basic psychological processes such as motivation or perception. Subsequently, the data obtained is integrated into programs to improve our quality of life and other services beneficial to us.


According to this approach, our thoughts and emotions have a considerable impact on our  mental health . For example, interpreting each comment you make about our appearance negatively could lead to an eating disorder.

Cognitive therapy

Apply cognitive psychology. For example, try to make our thoughts more positive or reduce cognitive distortions, which occur when we mentally distort reality.

Developmental psychology

Through studying topics such as theory of mind , which explains how we infer what is going through the minds of others, we come closer to better understanding interpersonal relationships and our progress as we grow.

Social psychology

Cognitive psychology helps us understand how our prejudices (despite how harmful they can sometimes be) enable us to reduce the amount of data that we have to process, since we take information for granted and do not analyze it.


All basic psychological processes are elementary when it comes to talking about training. Cognitive psychology has made contributions to us like  Bandura’s theory of social learning , which contrasts with the mechanical explanations of behaviorists. Understanding how we assimilate knowledge or how we perceive external stimuli is essential to provide an education to society.

Artificial intelligence

Knowing how the human mind works is the key to developing the technology of the future. Amazing discoveries are being made in this field. We are often surprised by news programs with robots that can carry out endless human activities.

The advancement of artificial intelligence requires that its professionals work with great responsibility, but it will also bring us technological advances capable of significantly improving our lives.

Daily life

Their contributions allow us to better control our mental processes and infer the causes of the behavior of others. We can use several of your contributions to simplify our day to day.

For example, after knowing that we retain approximately seven elements in our working memory (Miller) and that we can memorize more by grouping them, we can take this data into account to draw up more effective study strategies.

Cognitive psychology: characteristics

Although heterogeneous theories coexist within cognitive psychology, we can observe its main distinctive features. Discover the main characteristics of cognitive psychology:

1. Cognitive psychology emphasizes cognitive processes

Behavior cannot be explained without reference to cognitive processes . These procedures cover an endless number of tasks that we carry out in our day to day. For example, memorizing the birthdays of our relatives or perceiving the typical optical illusions that go viral.

2. His field of study is very complex

Cognitive psychology is complex, because it is not easy to see mental processes with the naked eye. In fact, this field of study has been rejected for years for its complexity. Today neuroscience allows us to approach these intricate questions in a more scientific way.

Thanks to neuroimaging techniques such as fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) we can observe how our brain performs certain tasks such as deciding whether we prefer to have a coffee or a chocolate shake.

Currently there are also powerful neuropsychological tests, such as those offered by CogniFit that I always recommend . This program allows you to carry out cognitive evaluations online, and offers you a fully detailed results report. Professionals of cognitive psychology have found in these scientific tools their great ally.

3. The sources of cognitive psychology are scattered and varied

Psychologists of emotions, information processing, Gestalt, cognitive social psychology or personality dive into the maze of mental processes with different objectives. The connections that result from their different theories and discoveries are truly enriching for psychology.

4. Cognitive psychology emphasizes that processing capacity is limited

Our ability to pay attention to and process information is affected by several factors. It requires a lot of effort and forces us to select the most relevant data at all times. For example, if we go to the supermarket, we cannot see all the cereal boxes at once. So, we will look at those that are right in front of our eyes and / or the most visually striking.

5. Mental processes are organized hierarchically

We are faced with an inordinate amount of stimuli; the television is on, the phone rings, the neighbors yell, smoke comes out of the kitchen, we feel like going to the bathroom, our arms itch, etc. We have to prioritize a few things to be efficient and survive as well as possible.

Our brain organizes and controls all the activities that we do consciously and many more at the same time. In fact, we carry out activities automatically (walking) and others in a controlled way (adding an event to the agenda). There are tasks that we can carry out in parallel (detect different elements on the street) and others in series (do several steps of a math problem). This can only be achieved hierarchically.

6. Cognitive psychology affirms that people understand reality in different ways

We all carry out complex actions through our mental processes. That is to say, we all memorize data, we make schemes to organize information, we have expectations about what we want in the future and countless activities that occur in our brain to adapt to the environment.

However, we are not mechanical entities. The environment and other people affect us, but we are active and self-conscious beings. We make our own decisions, defend our ideology, and come to different conclusions while maintaining our own arguments. We make complex judgments and comparisons that are reflected in the great inter-individual variability.

For example, a vehement follower of a soccer team will tend to pay more attention to any event related to his team, especially if it is positive. We act based on the information that is accessible to us, our goals, feelings, prejudices and a long etcetera of content that goes through our minds.


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