Cognitive psychology
(Cognitive psychology)

Cognitive Psychology Defined:

Cognitive psychology is the study of how people perceive, learn, remember, and think about information.


A cognitive psychologist might study how people perceive various shapes, why they remember some facts but forget others, or how they learn language. 

The bottom line is that understanding cognitive psychology can help us understand much of what goes on in our every- day lives.

In cognitive psychology, the ways of addressing fundamental issues have changed, but many of the fundamental questions remain much the same. 

Ultimately, cognitive psychologists hope to learn how people think by studying how people have thoughts about thinking.

The progression of ideas often involves a dialectic. 

"A dialectic" is a developmental process where ideas evolve over time through a pattern of transformation. What is this pattern? In a dialectic:

*A thesis is proposed. A thesis is a statement of belief. For example, some people believe that human nature governs many aspects of human behavior (e.g., intelligence or personality; Sternberg, 1999). After a while, however, certain individuals notice apparent flaws in the thesis.


*An antithesis emerges. Eventually, or perhaps even quite soon, an antithesis emerges. An antithesis is a statement that counters a previous statement of belief. For example, an alternative view is that our nurture (the environmental contexts in which we are reared) almost entirely determines many aspects of human behavior.

*A synthesis integrates the viewpoints. Sooner or later, the debate between the thesis and the antithesis leads to a synthesis. A synthesis integrates the most credible features of each of two (or more) views. For example, in the debate over nature versus nurture, the interaction between our innate (inborn) nature and environmental nurture may govern human nature.

The dialectic is important because we may be tempted to think that if one view is right, another seemingly contrasting view must be wrong. For example, in the field of intelligence, there has been a tendency to believe that intelligence is either all or mostly genetically determined, or else all or mostly environmentally determined. A similar debate has raged in the field of language acquisition. Often, we are better off posing such issues not as either/or questions, but rather as examinations of how different forces covary and interact with each other. Indeed, the most widely ac- cepted current contention is that the “nature or nurture” view is incomplete. Nature and nurture work together in our development.

Nurture can work in different ways in different cultures. Some cultures, espe- cially Asian cultures, tend to be more dialectical in their thinking, whereas other cultures, such as European and North American ones, tend to be more linear (Nisbett, 2003). In other words, Asians are more likely to be tolerant of holding beliefs that are contradictory, seeking a synthesis over time that resolves the con- tradiction. Europeans and Americans expect their belief systems to be consistent with each other.

Similarly, people from Asian cultures tend to take a different viewpoint than Westerners when approaching a new object (e.g., a movie of fish in an ocean; Nisbett & Masuda, 2003). In general, people from Western cultures tend to process objects independently of the context, whereas people from many Eastern cultures process objects in conjunction with the surrounding context (Nisbett & Miyamoto, 2005). Asians may emphasize the context more than the objects embed- ded in those contexts. So if people see a movie of fish swimming around in the ocean, Europeans or Americans will tend to pay more attention to the fish, and Asians may attend to the surround of the ocean in which the fish are swimming. The evidence suggests that culture influences many cognitive processes, including intelligence (Lehman, Chiu, & Schaller, 2004).

If a synthesis seems to advance our understanding of a subject, it then serves as a

new thesis. A new antithesis then follows it, then a new synthesis, and so on. Georg Hegel (1770–1831) observed this dialectical progression of ideas. He was a German philosopher who came to his ideas by his own dialectic. He synthesized some of the views of his intellectual predecessors and contemporaries.

Psychology also evolved as a result of dialectics: Psychologists had ideas about how the mind works and pursued their line of research; then other psychologists pointed out weaknesses and developed alternatives as a reaction to the earlier ideas. Eventually, characteristics of the different approaches are often integrated into a newer and more encompassing approach.