Cognitive Psychology: Definition and Meaning

Think of all your ideas as physical objects moving quickly through your mind. How can the brain switch from one thought to the next in a structured, logical manner? The brain is constantly digesting, remembering, planning, organizing, and perceiving new information. However, most of your brain's activity goes unnoticed while you do your regular activities. This is just one aspect of the intricate processes that go into cognition.

What is Cognition?

The term "cognition" refers to a wide range of mental functions, including thinking, perceiving, envisioning, attending, and the information processing necessary for learning, problem-solving, and making plans. The scientific study of cognition is known as cognitive psychology. The main focus of cognitive psychologists is what transpires between the stimulus and the subsequent behavior, and they believe there must be some mental or cognitive process between the two.

What is Cognitive Psychology?

The analogy for cognitive psychology is that of a computer or, in the most general sense, can be called an information-processing model or system. Here incoming information is processed in several ways. In a computer, information is selected, compared, combined with other information already there, and then transformed and rearranged. All these internal processes have an impact on the final response. Today cognitive psychology is not restricted to the study of thinking, perceiving, and knowledge but has been successfully applied to all related areas of psychology. Thus, for cognitive psychologists, psychology studies higher mental processes.

Cognition and Intelligence

A lot of cognitive psychology theory and research can fall under the "umbrella" psychological construct known as human intelligence. The ability to learn from experience, use metacognitive processes to improve learning, and adapt to one's surroundings are all characteristics of intelligence. In various social and cultural contexts, it could call for various adaptations. People with higher IQs typically do better in cognitive abilities like working memory, reasoning, problem-solving, concept development, divided and selective attention, and decision-making. As a result, when we learn more about the mental processes involved in each of these cognitive functions, we also gain a greater understanding of the reasons behind personal intelligence disparities in humans.

Concepts and Prototypes

The human nervous system is equipped to process unending streams of data. By taking in stimuli and turning them into nerve impulses sent to the brain, the senses act as a link between the mind and the outside world. Following the processing of this data by the brain, thoughts are produced that can be spoken, stated, or remembered for later use. The brain does not exclusively gather information from external environments, simplifying this process. The brain incorporates information from memories and emotions when forming thoughts. Our thoughts and actions are significantly influenced by emotion and memory. The brain has created a file cabinet of categories to arrange this mind-boggling amount of information. The various files kept in the filing cabinet are referred to as concepts. Concepts are divisions or collections of linguistic data, pictures, thoughts, or memories, such as past events. The brain also uses identifying prototypes for the ideas that have developed as a method of information organization. The best illustration or depiction of a concept is a prototype.


A schema's mental construct comprises a group or collection of connected concepts. Schemata come in various forms, but they all share one thing in common: they are a way to organize information so that the brain can process it more quickly. When a schema is triggered, the brain forms quick judgments about the person or thing being watched.

Stages of Cognitive Processing

Following are the major stages of cognitive processing

Perception − The initial stage of cognitive processing involves the examination of the content of the information inhaled by the sense organs. The brain is already deriving meaning from the input at this early stage of processing to make sense of the data it contains.

Learning and memory storage − Perception frequently results in creating a record of the information received, which involves learning and memory storage. Once a memory has been formed for a particular piece of knowledge, it can be stored for later use to help the person in another situation.

Retrieval − To use the stored information, it must typically be retrieved. Sometimes retrieval is done purely to access information that has been previously stored.

Thinking − We occasionally retrieve data as the foundation for additional mental activities like thinking. Memory retrieval is frequently used in thought processes, such as when we draw on our past experiences to solve current problems. Sometimes this entails rearranging and manipulating previously stored data to fit it into a brand-new task or difficulty. Thus, thinking involves more than merely recalling the past.

Approaches to Studying Cognitive Psychology

It includes

  • Experimental cognitive psychology − It uses psychological tests on volunteers to discover more about how people perceive, learns, remember, and think.

  • Computer modeling of cognitive processes − This method typically entails creating computer programs that simulate specific parts of human cognitive function to assess the feasibility of a model of possible brain function.

  • Cognitive neuropsychology focuses on researching people who have experienced various types of brain damage. Studying the different types of cognitive impairment brought on by lesions (i.e., damage) in certain brain regions can teach us a lot about how the healthy brain functions.

  • Cognitive neuroscience uses brain imaging (brain scans) to study the neural processes underpinning cognitive processing. PET (Positron Emission Tomography) and MRI scans are the two most popular methods for imaging the brain (Magnetic Resonance Imaging).

All four of these cognition-related approaches have proven to be helpful, particularly when it has been possible to integrate various approaches to the same cognitive process.


Behaviorists have strongly critiqued cognitive psychology, and Skinner listed a few of the biggest drawbacks, example, he challenged cognitive psychology's focus on mental processes or states. He claimed that using terms like "mind" or "thinking" merely reflects behavior. He pointed out that the entire subject of information processing can be explained simply as modifications to the environment's control. Furthermore, behavior is usually the function of environmental control. Regardless of these critiques, cognitive psychology has significantly impacted modern psychology.

Updated on: 09-Dec-2022


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