Cognitive Psychology

If you’re here, you’re probably a student of psychology or wanting to know what a cognitive psychologist does. Lucky you, I’ve compiled a huge list of different fields and topics in cognitive psychology and turned this page into a giant resource just for you. 

What is Cognitive Psychology?

Cognitive Psychology is the study of the mind and behavior with an approach that the brain is simply an information processor, such as a computer. This field of psychology came after psychoanalysis and behaviorism were popular and has offered alternatives to the theories within these fields.

There are eight main parts of cognitive psychology, refer below for a quick table of contents on this page, and click on the headings to be directed to a more in-depth page:







cognitive development

Cognitive Development





decision making

Decision Making

jobs in cognitive psychology

Jobs in Cognitive Psychology

Basic Assumptions

1) ‘Thinking’ occurs between stimulus and response

2) Behavior should be studied objectively in a controlled environment using scientific methods

3) Humans are information processors, with inputs and outputs


When it comes to your brain, Cognitive Psychologist like to think of it as a computer with inputs and outputs. 

Perception deals with how our brain receives the “inputs” through our sensory organs and tries to make sense of the world. We have 5 main senses, although there are many more that don’t get talked about as much. 


Memory is the function of the brain that is responsible for encoding, storing, and retrieving information. Without memory, we wouldn’t be able to hold information for further applications. 

There are many types of memory, however the main model (Atkinson-Shiffrin Model) consists of 3 main parts:

  • Sensory Memory: Information that is held directly from your sensory organs like nose and ears.
  • Short Term Memory: Information that you can hold in your consciousness for up to 18 seconds. 
  • Long Term Memory: Information that you can call upon and move to your short term memory for recall or manipulation.

Another model of memory (The Levels of Processing Theory) theorizes that the more we encode information, the longer we can remember it. Encoding information is the process of “making use” of it. For example, you might remember a new friend’s name because she looks like a character from a movie you saw. 

The Serial Position Effect was also another breakthrough in understanding how memory works. Hermann Ebbinghaus discovered that when showed a list of between 10 to 40 words, people would be much more likely to remember the last few words and the first few words. 

The Primacy Effect and Recency Effect break up the Serial Position Effect into two parts. The Primacy Effect is the tendency to remember the beginning of a list, such as the first person you meet at a conference. The Recency Effect is the tendency to remember the last of a list, such as the last side-effects of a medication. Both of these can be used during studying to improve student retention. 

If you’d like to test your memory, I have a 3-in-1 memory test that you can take online for free. It’s the first of it’s kind and I’ll even show you where you compare to the population that took it!

One last thing to note on memory is Mnemonic Devices. Mnemonic Devices are mental tools that can be used to extend the duration or capacity of long-term memory without much work. There are many mnenomics, however I will explain two below:

Acronym: Instead of trying to remember an entire sentence or phrase, you can turn just keep the first letter of each word. For example, “POTUS” and “ROY G. BIV” are both acronyms commonly taught to students. 

Chunking: Most people can remember 5-7 items in short term memory at a time. When they chunk information into pieces of 3-4 items, they can hold up to 4 ‘chunks’, which increases the number to 12-16 items in short term memory. 


What is learning in psychology, you ask?

Learning is the ability to use memory and perception to change behavior in a manner that benefits the learner.

Classical Conditioning

The first big breakthrough in learning was Classical Conditioning which is attributed to Ivan Pavlov and his famous dog experiment. Not long after, John B. Watson tested classical conditioning on children in his infamous Little Albert study. 

In short, classical conditioning works by pairing two stimuli to a response. For example, you might want to pair your dog coming into the kitchen by ringing a bell so you can feed them. If you ring the bell, then feed them enough, eventually they should learn the bell means food is about to come. 

This theory strongly supported the behavioralism theory.

Operant Conditioning

After classical conditioning was discovered, the world of cognitive psychology was shook by operant conditioning. Operant conditioning was developed by B.F. Skinner when he theorized you could encourage or discourage behavior by adding or removing stimuli. 

Remember: reinforcement means to increase the likelihood of a behavior, and punishment means to decrease the liklihood of a behavior. 

Another important thing to note on operant conditioning is that Skinner realized the importance of schedules. In other words, how often did the conditioning happen, and how often was it rewarded/punished? Was the ratio of rewards fixed? Or was each reward given out at a specific interval?

Observational Learning

But, do we learn without needing a reward or by connecting stimuli? According to Albert Bandura, we can also learn by watching others. 

The Bobo doll experiment was conducted to see if children would react towards a toy the same way that they observed others to act towards the toy. In short, they did. There are 4 main parts of observational learning: attention, memory, reproduction, and motivation. 

Michael Tomasello is a comparative psychologist who contributed to cognitive psychology by showing that one of the main things that differentiates humans from other animals is their unique ability to learn by watching. 


Attention is defined in psychology as selective concentrating our consciousness on certain sensory inputs or processes. 

Currently, cognitive psychology has two main attention theories: Broadbent’s filter model, and Treisman’s attenuation model. 

Broadbent’s filter model

Broadbents Filter Model of Attention

In 1953, a psychologists named Cherry found an effect called the “cocktail party effect” where participants could pick out words from a bunch of noise they heard. This was interesting, because this means we can filter the information we hear after we hear it.

5 years later, in 1958, Donald Broadbent used this effect to help support his theory of how attention works. In his dichotic listening experiments, participants listened to two different sounds in each ear and were asked to focus on one. When focusing on both, they couldn’t understand either, however, when they focused on one, they could clearly understand what was being said.

Broadbent said the sensory information entered the brain, and we filter out what is unnecessary, or unwanted, and store the rest in working memory so we can use it. A bottleneck is commonly used to help explain this model – we can only let so much information into our working memory at a time. We just have to choose what is important.

Treisman’s attenuation model

Treismans Attenuation Model of Attention

Anne Treisman was actually one of Broadbent’s students. She continued his model and filled the problems with her attenuation model. Attenuation is the process of turning up or down the intensity of information, similar to adjusting a volume knob. That is exactly how her model works too, that we can turn up our attention to something and lower our attention to other things. 

The Invisible Gorilla experiment supports Treisman’s attenuation model. In this experiment, participants are asked to watch a video of people throwing a basketball around. The goal is for them to count how many times the basketball is passed. However, halfway through the video a man in a gorilla outfit walks between the basketball players. Most viewers don’t even notice the gorilla.  They turned down the gorilla, and up the basketball. 

Language Acquisition

We are still adding information to this section

Problem Solving

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Decision Making

We are still adding information to this section


To put it simply, metacognition is the process of thinking about thinking. Metacognition is important, because it seems to be very unique to humans. 

One of the most important developments in cognitive science about metacognition is the Self Fulfilling Prophecy. The Self Fulfilling Prophecy is a phenomenon in which a person has an expectation about themselves, and by just having the expectation, the outcome is more likely to happen.

According to the psychologists who coined the term, the Self Fulfilling Prophecy is “A false definition of the situation evoking a new behavior which makes the originally false conception come true.

Another very important aspect of metacognition is meditation. Mindfulness Meditation is a mental exercise in which you try to not think about anything. Doing so seems to increase the grey matter in the brain, along with other positive benefits, such as: 

  • Improving physical health
  • Reduced total stress
  • Improved immune system
  • Lower risk for depression

Cognitive Development

One of the most famous and tested theories of development in cognitive psychology is the work of Jean Piaget. He proposed that we go through 4 main stages of cognitive development: 

Sensorimotor Stage

From birth to 2 years old, we are characterized by our ability to know how to operate our “motors”. That is, we are essentially learning how to move about the world in this stage. In this stage, babies begin to learn the concept of object permanence, the theory that when things disappear, they aren’t gone forever. 

Preoperational Stage

From age 2 to 7 years old, we start to use language to communicate and think. However, children in this stage are still egocentric, meaning they struggle to see thing from the views of others. Another notable feature is pretend play and the introduction of creativity. 

Concrete Operational Stage

During the Concrete Operational stage, Piaget said children from 7 to 11 started to think more logically about specific events. They also develop and understand a concept called Conservation. Their thinking is much more organized, yet still concrete and basic.  The Egocentricity fades away and we can think how others feel. 

Formal Operational Stage

After around age 11, children develop complex cognitive skills like advanced reasoning and thinking in abstractions. Questions of moral, ethical, and political ideas start to arise and children solidify their identity. 

Piaget’s theory of a child’s development has been a standard in cognitive psychology for a long time, and that’s because his theories are hard to ignore. 

Famous Studies and Experiments

We are still adding information to this section, but here is a list:

Loftus and Palmer

Peterson and Peterson 1959

Cocktail party Effect 

Invisible Gorilla

The Spacing Effect

Jobs in Cognitive Psychology

We are still adding information to this section

Theodore T.

Theodore is a professional psychology educator with over 10 years of experience creating educational content on the internet. PracticalPsychology started as a helpful collection of psychological articles to help other students, which has expanded to a Youtube channel with over 2,000,000 subscribers and an online website with 500+ posts.