What is Cognitive Psychology?

Cognitive psychology is the study of a number of mental processes, including perception, memory, creativity, problem solving, attention, language use and thinking, among others. This branch of psychology has come to play a role in a number of associated fields of study such as abnormal psychology, personality psychology, developmental psychology, social psychology, educational psychology, even economics and other disciplines beyond the psychological field. There are a number of careers for those interested in this discipline of psychology. Research and education are top areas of employment for those with this degree, though there are also a large number of professionals working from a cognitive base in clinical settings, as well.


People have been interested in the ways in which humans think for centuries. It was in the 19th century that debates developed regarding whether human thought was based on experience (empiricism) or on innate knowledge (nativism). Well known experts of the time were John Locke and George Berkeley, on the side of empiricsm, and Immanuel Kant, arguing for nativism. Because cognitive psychology is the study of aspects of thought related to behavior, developments in other areas of research and science throughout history had an impact on the discipline. The understanding that one area of the brain is primarily responsible for language was discovered by Paul Broca. Carl Werricke, in a related discovery, came to the conclusion that a different area of the brain was responsible for the comprehension of language. Both of these were significant to the branch of psychology dealing with cognition.

In the mid 20th century, there were developments that largely played a role in bringing this school of psychology into the realm of respectable disciplines. During World War II, there arose a need to learn efficient ways of training soldiers and to understand their behavior under stress, among other things. Current popular branches of psychology like behaviorism weren’t leading to sufficient knowledge; it was insight from the work of Donald Broadbent’s information theory and human performance research that led to significant inroads. When computers came about, people began to draw similarities between their function and that of the human brain. This led to the development of the idea of artificial intelligence, an offshoot of the work of cognitive psychologists. In 1959, Noam Chomsky’s work is said to have led to the modern rise of this discipline and would be known as the cognitive revolution.

Practical Applications

The main areas of focus here are metacognition, which is essentially thoughts about thinking; language; perception; memory; and attention. The study of these areas can be applied to other disciplines of psychology. They all go hand in hand. Disciplines that involve the psychology of cognition include personality psychology, educational psychology, developmental psychology, social psychology and abnormal psychology. The way in which people develop and implement thoughts influences all of these areas of the human experience.

This basic summary gives some insight into the school of thought. Cognitive psychology is a complex discipline made up of and influencing a number of other fields. It is an appealing discipline for those interested in human thoughts and behaviors.