Cognitive psychology has been influenced by developments in computer science and analogies are often made between how a computer works and how we process information.
Based on this computer analogy, cognitive psychology is interested in how the brain inputs, stores and retrieves information.
This has led to models which shows information flowing through the cognitive system such as the multi-store model of memory.
•The main assumption of the cognitive approach is that information received from our senses is processed by the brain and that this processing directs how we behave.
•These internal mental processes cannot be observed directly but we can infer what a person is thinking based on how they act.
The role of schemas (AO1)
A schema is a “packet of information” or cognitive framework that helps us organise and interpret information. They are based on our previous experience.
Schemas help us to interpret incoming information quickly and effectively, this prevents us from being overwhelmed by the vast amount of information we perceive in our environment.
However it can also lead to distortion of this information as we select and interpret environmental stimuli using schemas which might not be relevant. This could be the cause of inaccuracies in areas such as eyewitness testimony. It can also explain some errors we make when perceiving optical illusions.
The emergence of neuroscience (AO1)
Neuroscience aims to find out how the brain structures influence the way we process information and map mental cognitive functions to specific areas of the brain. This is done using brain imaging techniques such as fMRI and PET scans.
Examples of brain mapping: Braver et al. (1997) found that when their participants were performing activities involving the central executive while being scanned the prefrontal cortex showed greater activity. This suggests that the central executive is situated in the prefrontal cortex.
•The study of memory has led to the development of cognitive interview which has decreased the inaccuracy of eyewitness memory; this should lead to a decrease of wrongful convictions.
•It also helped us understand the causes of depression and the approach also proposes a therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy which has shown to be effective for a range of mental disorders and unlike drugs has no side effects.
The cognitive approach uses a very scientific method; mainly lab. Experiments. These are controlled and replicable so the results are reliable however they lack ecological validity because of the artificiality of the tasks and environment so it might not reflect the way people process information in their everyday life.
For example Baddeley (1966) used lists of words to find out the encoding used by LTM, however these words had no meaning to the participants so the way they used their memory in this task was probably very different than they would have done if the words had meaning for them. This is a weakness as the theories might not explain how memory really works outside the laboratory.
•The cognitive approach has a wide range of practical applications. For example schemas can be used to explain how eyewitness memories of events can be distorted therefore inaccurate. The study of memory processes such as cue dependent forgetting has led to a strategy to improve EWT: cognitive interview.
•By highlighting the importance of cognitive processing, the cognitive approach is able to offer an explanation for mental disorders such as depression where Beck argues that it is the negative schemas we hold about the self, the world and the future which lead to depression rather than external events.
•However it does not take into account the genetic factors which seem to be involved in mental disorders such as schizophrenia. Furthermore this approach has led to cognitive behavioural therapy which is an effective way to deal with depression and unlike drugs has not side-effects.
•The approach is reductionist as it does not take into account emotions and motivation which influence the processing of information and memory for example according to the Yerkes-Dodson law anxiety can influence our memory.
•However the cognitive approach is less deterministic than the learning approach as although it argues that our thinking is limited by the way we process information it does not deny the influence of moral values and social norms.