Cognitive psychology is a subdiscipline of psychology exploring internal mental processes. It is the study of how people perceive, remember, think, speak, and solve problems.
Cognitive psychology is radically different from previous psychological approaches in two key ways.
- It accepts the use of the scientific method, and generally rejects introspection as a valid method of investigation, unlike symbol-driven approaches such as Freudian psychology.
- It explicitly acknowledges the existence of internal mental states (such as belief, desire and motivation). In its early years, critics held that the empiricism of cognitive psychology combined with its acceptance of internal mental states was contradictory. However, the sibling field of cognitive neuroscience has provided evidence of physiological brain states which directly correlate with mental states. In that sense, cognitive neuroscience has vindicated the central assumption of cognitive psychology.
The school of thought arising from this approach is known as cognitivism.
Ulric Neisser coined the term "cognitive psychology" in his book Cognitive Psychology, published in 1965 wherein Neisser provides a definition of cognitive psychology characterizing people as dynamic information-processing systems whose mental operations might be described in computational terms. Also emphasising that it is a "point of view" that postulates the mind as having a certain conceptual structure. Neisser's point of view endows the discipline with a scope beyond high-level concepts such as "reasoning" that other works often espouse as defining psychology. Neisser's definition of "cognition" illustrates this well:
The term "cognition" refers to all processes by which the sensory input is transformed, reduced, elaborated, stored, recovered, and used. It is concerned with these processes even when they operate in the absence of relevant stimulation, as in images and hallucinations... Given such a sweeping definition, it is apparent that cognition is involved in everything a human being might possibly do; that every psychological phenomenon is a cognitive phenomenon. But although cognitive psychology is concerned with all human activity rather than some fraction of it, the concern is from a particular point of view. Other viewpoints are equally legitimate and necessary. Dynamic psychology, which begins with motives rather than with sensory input, is a case in point. Instead of asking how a man's actions and experiences result from what he saw, remembered, or believed, the dynamic psychologist asks how they follow from the subject's goals, needs, or instincts.
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