Cognitive Psychology: What Is It, What Does It Consist Of And Who Established It?

Cognitive psychology: what is it, what does it consist of and who established it?

Cognitive psychology is currently one of the most influential and effective therapeutic streams in the area of ​​recovery from mental disorders. Although the term “cognitive” is little used in everyday language, it is used frequently in the world of behavioral sciences. For the reader who is not particularly familiar with psychology, let’s say that “cognitive” is synonymous with knowledge or thought.

All human beings are able to generate cognitions, that is, thoughts or mental representations of what we know, of what is happening around us. The same does not happen if we do not know something or if we are not aware of its existence.

Cognitive psychology, therefore,  is devoted to the study of human behavior which focuses on the unobservable, mental aspects  that intervene between the stimulus and the open response. To put it in more understandable language, cognitive psychology takes care of knowing the ideas that crop up in the patient’s mind and how they affect his emotional and behavioral response – how he feels and what he does. made according to these ideas -.

Today, we frequently use cognitive therapy to solve a multitude of psychological problems. Why ? Because we have been able to observe how these cognitions or thoughts that we are talking about influence the behavior of the patient or determine it in very many cases.

Therefore,  from this point of view, the treatment is to identify those thoughts, beliefs and mental patterns which do not correspond to the surrounding reality  or which are exaggerated and to try to challenge them through a debate consisting of ask questions that challenge these cognitions. Once the person or patient is able to identify and question their own beliefs, they will be ready to reformulate them and emit new cognitions, more suited to objective reality.

The cognitive revolution

In the 1950s, the dominant paradigm was behavioral or learning psychology which, although it had succeeded in explaining a multitude of psychological phenomena, was still quite reductionist because it could only give explanations to what was observable. . Anything that could intervene between stimuli and responses – the so-called behaviorist “black box” – or that was considered an epiphenomenon or something insignificant to observable behavior.

When this behavioral aspect came to a standstill, importance began to be attached to the phenomena that occurred in our mind  between the time we received a stimulus and the time we gave a response. It was at this time that researchers began to study the processes of reasoning, language, memory, imagination …

The same thing happened with the psychoanalysis of Sigmund Freud, a current which also dominated at the time and which was not able to give answers to the multitude of mental disorders despite the revolution it had carried out.

The so-called “cognitive revolution” arises in an irremediable way, and this is why psychology is reorienting itself towards the private mental processes of the individual.

Broadly speaking,  there are certain areas of research that gave birth to cognitive psychology,  such as:

  • Advances in computing  (Turing, Von Neumann…) which allowed the creation of programmable machines, which were able to make decisions by drawing a parallel with the way the human mind processes information.
  • Advances in the field of cybernetics,  with Wiener.
  • Information theories  with Shannon, who saw information as a choice and a reduction of alternatives.

Which authors formulated cognitive psychology?

As we explained earlier,  cognitive psychology arises from the limitations of behaviorism,  unable to explain, for example, why there are people who respond differently to others when they have received the same packaging. The most well-known representatives who helped cognitive psychology take hold in the world of behavioral science were:

FC Barlett

He was the first professor of experimental psychology at the University of Cambridge. His main postulate was the schema of mind theory, through which he argued that thinking, like remembering, is a process that can be reconstructed.

Through fables he read to the people who participated in his studies, he noticed that they were not able to literally remember them, even if he had repeated them. However, he found that these people were more likely to remember what matched their previous mental patterns.

Jerome Bruner

For this author, there are three forms of learning: the active, the pictorial and the symbolic. It establishes that an instructional theory must focus on four main aspects: the predisposition to learning, the ways in which a body of knowledge can be structured, the sequences for presenting the material and, finally, the nature and rhythm. of reward or punishment.

Most important in his theory is the place occupied by immersion in knowledge for anyone who wishes to learn. Thus, he emitted the idea that a student would learn more and more quickly if he became involved in the knowledge that he was trying to acquire and apply it.


He formulated the famous theory of multiple intelligences, according to which intelligence is the ability to organize thoughts and coordinate them with actions. Each person would have at least eight types of intelligence or cognitive skills. 

These intelligences are semi-autonomous but work as a team (integrated) in a person’s mind. Each person, on the other hand, would develop one or the other type of intelligence to a different degree from others due to cultural accents.

Jeffrey Sternberg

Sternberg is known for his Triangular Theory of Love,  according to which fulfilled love is made up of three elements: intimacy, passion, and commitment.

He also articulated the triarchical theory of intelligence, which says that intelligence is a mental activity that aims to adapt us, to select and define important environments of the subject in question. Intelligence, according to him, is demonstrated through the way each of us faces or promotes change.

David rumerlhart

He is a very influential author on the schema theory level. According to him, diagrams are representations of general concepts that are stored in our memory and that help us organize the world. His theory tells us how the world is represented in our mind and how we use this information to interact with the world.

Jean Piaget

He is one of the most important authors for cognitive psychology. He formulated the theory of cognitive development in stages. These stages are characterized by the possession of qualitatively different logical structures which account for certain capacities and impose certain restrictions on children.

There are many other representatives of cognitive psychology, like Vigotsky, Erickson or Ausubel who deserve a place in this list. In any case, their contributions constituted a revolution for the psychology of the time and for understanding what are the main strengths and weaknesses of the most popular current in the news, the cognitive-behavioral current.

Thus, thanks to their contributions, psychology has advanced by leaps and bounds. In this way, although behaviorism is still relevant and even combines with cognitivism, the latter was a big step forward from what we knew a few decades earlier, improving the treatment of various mental disorders. Some with a big impact like, for example, depression.

Even so,  cognitive psychology is not without its limitations either. Reasoned, and very often reasonable, critiques of the assumption that mental processes and behavior are separate and that the former precede the latter.

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