The reason I’m not a neurobiologist but a cognitive psychologist is that I think looking at brain tissue is often the wrong level of analysis. You have to look at a higher level of organisation.
Steven Pinker-Harvard University
The Cognitive approach was initially contrasted with Behaviourism, especially in the US where the highly experimental, yet limited perspective was seemingly running out of steam, where Behaviourism was only interested in the external, observable and measurable phenomena Cognitive Psychology wanted the same experimental approach but took the view that the internal thought processes often compared with a ‘computer‘, was an area of study worth pursuing.
What are the processes within the mind shaping thought? What were their limitations and are they fixed? Were they applicable to all, was there a ‘human’ base model that all shared that culture and experience then could mould? One such example, many will be familiar with terminology like short-term and long-term memory as an example of our early Cognitive Psychology devised simplistic models to represent how complex processes of memory interact. George Miller’s 7(+-2) to represent the ‘capacity’ of Short Term Memory that then produced ‘chunking‘ to seemingly generate a hack to get around the limitations of our own systems.
For such hard wired or ‘hard-coded‘ (to maintain the often cited computer analogy), these ‘rules of thought’ were systematically studied to provide support for cognitive psychology which became the new face of experimental psychology generating memory tasks to provide evidence of our how these cognitive systems worked. However, many studies produced basic lists of words and objects to produce effects whilst interesting were deemed to have little ecological validity.
Ecological Validity of early Cognitive based tests
The classic 1935 Stroop Test illustrates both the seeming limitations of our cognitive processes through a task that has very little generalisability to real word tasks. Take an interactive test here.
However, no ‘process’ was left unturned perception, problem-solving, attention, language and memory historically the key areas of Cognitive Psychology. Whilst conducting highly controlled experimental work to build a body of evidence using a Nomothetic approach, some took an interest in the variations in people’s thinking whilst others took a more idiographic approach interested in the case studies of individuals whose thought processes were seemingly ‘faulty’ or ‘erroneous’. Consider how visual illusions work. They take advantage on how our perceptual sets are fixed which means anything we are presented with that sits outside of that our mind has to either attempt to adjust or it produces an image that we cannot understand.
The Case of HM
One such case was that of Henry Molaiso (referred to as HM). Aged 27 needing brain surgery HM had both parts to his ‘hippocampus‘ removed when receiving surgery to assist his epilepsy. What wasn’t known then is the Hippocampus structure is now thought to be crucial in the development of new memories.
However, for reasons still not completely understood (often thought to be the result of the heavy medication for the epilepsy) HM had no memory of events for the 11 years prior to the operation and unable to make new ones. This is referred to a global amnesia constituting a completed lack of memory both prior (retrograde amnesia) and after (anterograde amnesia). HM therefore, became a man whose memory finished when he was 16 years old without any way to process new memories. A similar case is that of Clive Wearing watch the video below for an insight into a life where memory doesn’t exist.
B.F. Skinner criticises the cognitive approach as he believes that only external stimulus – response behavior should be studied as this can be scientifically measured. Therefore, mediation processes (between stimulus and response) do not exist as they cannot be seen and measured. Skinner continues to find problems with cognitive research methods, namely introspection (as used by Wilhelm Wundt) due to its subjective and unscientific nature.
Humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers believes that the use of laboratory experiments by cognitive psychology have low ecological validity and create an artificial environment due to the control over variables. Rogers emphasises a more holistic approach to understanding behaviour.
The information processing paradigm of cognitive psychology views that minds in terms of a computer when processing information. However, there are important difference between humans and computers. The mind does not process information like a computer as computers don’t have emotions or get tired like humans.
The cognitive approach does not always recognize physical (re: biological psychology) and environmental (re: behaviourism) factors in determining behaviour. (http://www.simplypsychology.org/cognitive.html)
Take part in some Cognitive Research
Be a participant – If you want to take part in some online-based research, here is a link to some data being collected currently. (Univeristy of St Andrews in Scotland)
Applied Cognitive Psychology -Forensic Psychology
Work by Elizabeth Loftus investigating how easily a ‘normal’ memory can be distorted by simple language is one of the most well-known works in Psychology. However, not exempt for ecological validity issues it is still one of the most stark examples of how memory is malleable and easily altered. Particularly useful in the realm of Forensic Psychology and the ease in which eye-witness testimony can be falsely relied upon. Test your knowledge of that research –here.
Watch the video on as Loftus explains how memory is reconstructive;
‘like a Wikipedia page you can go and change it….but so can other people‘.
Loftus also discusses her research and its real world setting – a response to all those low ecological validity claims:
Do criminals have a distinct and measurable set of thinking patterns? Yochelson and Samenow attempted to find out.
Applied Cognitive Psychology – Clinical Psychology
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is a generic term for a therapeutic approach to psychological disorders developed out of a need for an alternative from the more traditional therapeutic Psychoanalytical approach. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy aims to restructure thoughts of individuals who are suffering from a range of disorders from anxiety and depression. Do those suffering from depression have a distinct set of thought patterns – Beck tempted to find out? Have a look at Beck’s research into CBT when compared with Drug therapy. Influential Psychologist Albert Ellis developed Rational Emotive Therapy (RET) in the 1950’s with Psychologist Aaron Beck leading the way for psychotic disorders such as Schizophrenia from the 1970’s. CBT is also being used to treat ‘insomnia’.
Below shows the progression from Cognition (thought) to the Behaviour (Actions) that have been reframed by using CBT, comparing the initial ‘faulty’ thinking. Mindfulness is fast approaching CBT as a preferred method of dealing with anxiety without drug therapy. And here is an article critiquing CBT as a useful therapy.
|Thoughts:||He/she ignored me – they don’t like me||He/she looks a bit wrapped up in themselves – I wonder if there’s something wrong?|
|Low, sad and rejected||Concerned for the other person, positive|
|Physical:||Stomach cramps, low energy, feel sick||None – feel comfortable|
|Action:||Go home and avoid them||Get in touch to make sure they’re OK|
An interesting infographic outlining CBT;