Cognitive Psychology Definition and Aspects


In the early 20th century, psychologists focused primarily on behavioral psychology. However, this changed as they began to explore mental processes. Psychologists realized that the use of behavioral psychology to determine mental processes were inconsistent. Moreover, the utilization of scientific methods in psychology was advancing. Therefore, the shift from behavioral psychology to cognitive psychology was inevitable. Uiric Neisser coined the term cognitive psychology in 1967. Since then, it has been utilized predominantly in scientific developments to provide a better understanding of mental processes. This paper will explore cognitive psychology, key milestones in its development and significance of behavioral observation (Wickens, 2005).

Definition of Cognitive Psychology

Uiric Neisser coined the term cognitive psychology in 1967. Neisser was an American psychologist. He determined that cognitive psychology involved mental processes of sensory input. Cognitive psychology was thus designated as a branch of psychology that dealt with studies on mental processes, which included perception, remembering, learning, and thinking. Since then, it has been explored with better definitions, which encompass its involvement in cognitive science, neuroscience, linguistics, and philosophy. In essence, cognitive psychology focuses on how individuals acquire information, process as well as store it. It has also been utilized to try to enhance cognitive research, decision-making, learning, memory, and educational curricula, among others. Mental processes involved included attention, metacognition, perception, language, among others.

A number of influential cognitive psychologists have come up; these include John Anderson, Fredric Bartlett, Aaron Beck, William Estes, and Allan Newell, among others. Over the years, cognitive psychology has evolved. In fact, modern cognitive psychology has entrenched aspects such as abnormal psychology, developmental psychology, personality psychology, social psychology, and educational psychology. Moreover, debates have arisen over the line between cognitive science and cognitive psychology. In essence, the definition of cognitive psychology has also evolved. In fact, it can be defined as the study of mental processes, namely, language, thinking, judging, attention, knowing, perception, decision-making, problem-solving, reasoning, and memory, among others (Eysenck, 2004, pp. 393-404).

Milestones in the development of Cognitive Psychology

Several milestones were achieved in the development of cognitive psychology. These included the fall of behaviorism, information processing, artificial intelligence, and neuroscience, among others (Willingham, 2007).

The decline of behaviorism

The decline in the use of behavioral psychology was realized from the 1950s. This ensued because it was quite difficult to account for reasoning in memory and language. Moreover, behaviorism was mainly done on animals. Besides, it could not provide valid reasons behind mental processes and intrinsic drives. Evidently, it was based on observation, which could not account for intrinsic mental processes. Psychologists, therefore, had to think beyond behavioral psychology to unveil aspects of mental processes (Willingham, 2007).

Information processing

Information processing in a human was among the basic concepts of cognitive psychology. In fact, it was realized that humans and machines shared memory. This provided the notion of relating a mind to a computer. This analogy was significant in promoting the study of cognitive psychology as well as its relation to cognitive science.

Artificial intelligence

Thoughts on behavior and logic came about due to the influence brought about by sophisticated programs on artificial intelligence. This brought about the idea of an abstract construct in cognitive science. As opposed to behaviorists, who used observable phenomena, artificial intelligence offered inference of unobserved processes in humans.


The use of conceptual constructs was essential in equipping neuroscientists with the ability to explore mind processes. This was important because it enabled observations on the damaged brain to ascertain cognitive problems. Moreover, it provided the connection that links the structure of the brain to its functions.

Importance of behavioral observation in Cognitive Psychology

Behavioral observation has numerous significances in cognitive psychology. For instance, it enables cognitive psychologists to examine inferences and theories about behavior. In addition, it allows them to assess their guesses on behavior. However, due to the complexities involved in direct observation of mental processes, cognitive psychologists infer their clients through behavioral observation. This is a complex task, which relates the observable to the unobservable. In essence, behavioral observation in cognitive psychology is important in relating the observable to the unobservable. Moreover, it should be noted that behavior–observing technique in cognitive psychology enables the psychologist to determine whether their inferences are factual and valid.

This also qualifies the relationship between variables and abstract concepts proposed. According to Willingham, cognitive psychologists must utilize invisible conceptual constructs to relate their influence on visible actions. This has enabled the use of three types of behavioral research to achieve goals in cognitive psychology. These include experimental research, relational research, and descriptive research. The theories are important in finding, describing, and experimenting observations to support cognitive psychology. In essence, behavioral observation forms an integral part of cognitive psychology (Wickens, 2005). It ensures that the link between observable and unobservable aspects of the cognitive theory is established and validated.


Cognitive psychology gained a reputation in the early 1950s. However, it was explored variously at different scientific level. Nonetheless, in 1967, Uiric Neisser coined the term cognitive psychology, and ever since, it has been utilized variously to explore human mental processes. These include how individuals think, learn, memorize, make decisions, solve problems, reason, and perceive, among others. Several milestones were achieved during its inception and development. Some of these include the decline of behaviorism, artificial intelligence, information processing, and neuroscience. However, behavioral observation is still an integral part of cognitive psychology. It enables the relation of observable behavior to unobservable abstract constructs in cognitive psychology.


Eysenck, M. W. (2004). Applied cognitive psychology: Implications of cognitive psychology for clinical psychology and psychotherapy. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 60(4), 393-404. Web.

Wickens, A. (2005). Foundations of Biopsychology (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice- Hall. Print.

Willingham, D. T. (2007). Cognition: The thinking animal (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Allyn & Bacon. Print.