Cognitive Psychology: The Main Tasks

Cognitive psychology is actually a branch of psychology that is concerned with the study of mental processes that occur internally. Internal mental processes include memory, thinking, reasoning, problem solving and language. This branch of psychology makes use of the scientific method, to understand, diagnose and find solutions to problems that are associated with internal mental processes in human beings. Cognitive psychology has also recognized the existence of cognitive states such as desires, motivations and believes unlike other braches like behaviorism. (Irving 2003)

Cognitive psychology therefore focuses on human knowledge and the factors that are important in learning. Cognition as a developmental process begins at infancy and cognitive psychology explores human knowledge from this early stages to old age in life. The study of cognitive psychology presents the theoretical framework for understanding human knowledge and learning. Indeed it is through the theories of cognitive psychology that people are able to understand the foundation of their knowledge.

Milestones in the development of cognitive psychology

The first milestone in the development of cognitive psychology was the establishment of a scientific research laboratory specifically for cognitive psychology investigations. This was accomplished in 1879 by Wilhelm Wundt.With this development, experiment could be used to measure processes that are associated with cognition such as hearing which facilitated the study of cognitive psychology. Wilhelm Wundt came up with the idea of studying sensations through introspection. (Ellis 1973)

B. F.Skinner in his behavioral approach was the first person to claim that human behavior can be explained in terms of Stimulus- Response relationship. The idea of the brain being a black box had been initiated by radical behaviorists who thought that psychology should focus on only the observable. There was curiosity by some behaviorists over what is in the black box. Edward C. Tolman came up with the thought that psychology has purposes and plans. He therefore put an organism between stimulus and response. This was a milestone and can be said to be the foundation of cognitive psychology. (Skinner 1953)The beginning of Gestalt psychology marked the thinking from a wholistic perspective rather than fragments of stimulus and responses units. This school of thought was entirely based on holistic principles that wholes are different from the sum of fragments. These principles were an opposition to structuralism. The Gestalt school of thought was fundamentally significant in the study of perceptions and explaining insight in the context of problem solving abilities of the mind.

In the mid 19th century Donald O. Hebb became the first psychologist to present a significant theory concerning how the brain is able to support cognitive processes. He stressed the fact that cognition is based on a network of related cell which when stimulated are able to facilitate the process of learning. In 1956 Miller presented the magical number seven claim in which he emphasized that short term memory in the mind comes about as a result of internal structures. He tended to disagree with the stimulus response assertion because if indeed they existed then the limit in memory should not be there. After the Second World War there were so many victims of brain damage and this also had significance in cognitive psychology with the development of neuropsychology which studied the relationship between the structures of the brain and cognitive processes. (Boring 1929)

Behavioral observations

Cognitive psychology was actually founded on behavior observations exhibited by human beings and animals. Through Ivan Pavlov’s classical conditioning theory it is possible to understand why a dog salivates in the presence of food. Behavior observations formed the foundation of cognitive psychology. It is through observation of behaviors exhibited by animals such as dogs that interest in understanding the drive behind certain behaviors.

Behaviors in animals are directly connected to internal structures of the brain. It is within the internal structures of the brain that behaviors come out in the physical environment of an individual. Before someone utters words through the mouth, the process first begins from the bran through its structures. When these structures are stimulated, the response is transmitted through networks until it reaches the mouth where the response comes out through speaking. Therefore this shows that behavior observations can be used for understanding the cognitive process in animals. Behavior modification can be achieved through behavior observations in cognitive psychology. For instance a child who shows undesirable can go through behavior assessment and intervention and all the processes require close observation and monitoring of behavior before changing it to achieve desired results. (Piaget 1950)

In cognitive psychology, major theories such as classical conditioning are dependent on behavior observations. It is actually through behavior observations that the theories were coined and put in practice to explain psychological processes in learning and knowledge acquisition. The application of the theories such as operant conditioning in solving psychological problems is also dependent on behavior observation. Behavior observations are used to manage behavior related disorders in cognitive psychology. This is achieved through observation, assessment and design of an intervention plan that is used to manage the behavior disorders. Psychiatry is part of cognitive psychology and utilizes behavior observation especially after patients have undergone brain operations and change is anticipated. Behavior observation can go on for some time and can determine the success or failure of the process. (Irving 2003)

Therefore it is vital to mention that cognitive psychology has developed through behavior observations which have featured in theory and even application to solve problems affecting mankind such as mental disorders. It remains an important aspect in the discipline without which there would be no basis for theory and practice.


Piaget, Jean. 1950. The Psychology of Intelligence. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Irving B. Weiner, 2003 Handbook of psychology ,editor New York : Wiley, 12 v

Ellis, A. (1973) Humanistic Psychology: The rational-emotive approach. New York: Julian Press.

Boring, E. (1929). A History of Experimental Psychology. London: Century.

Skinner, B.F. (1953). Science and Human Behavior. New York: Macmillan.

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