How Did the Cognitive Revolution Take Place in Psychology?
What is Cognitive Psychology?
Cognitive Psychology is a contemporary approach to psychology that explains behavior by investigating mental processes and structures. The main interest of cognitive psychology is cognition, or the way information is processed and manipulated when remembering, thinking, and knowing. Specifically, cognitive psychologists (those who use the cognitive psychology approach) are interested in such topics as language, problem solving, reasoning, and decision-making. For example, Mary Czerwinski, a cognitive psychologist, works for _Microsoft by conducting research on attention and perception in three-dimensional environments.
Origin of Cognitive Psychology
Cognitive psychology started in the late 1950s and early 1960s after behaviorism, when psychologists felt compelled to refer to mental processes to explain behavior. Behaviorists rejected the concept of the mind then because they claim it was unobservable. However, with the advent of Albert Bandura's Social Cognitive Theory, in which behaviorist principles were modified to accommodate the phenomenon of imitation or modeling, the focus on the mind gradually increased from a simple storage housing information, to a tool for manipulating and processing information, and even for coordinating and directing behavior.
The Development of Cognitive Psychology
The most important factor that contributed to the development of cognitive psychology is the development of computer technology. In the late 1940s, the first modern computer by John von Neumann showed that machines could perform logical operations. In the 1950s, there were speculations that computers actually reflect the way the mind works. Herbert Simon (1969) was the first to compare the human mind to computer processing systems, saying that the brain is like the computer's hardware, and the mind is the computer's software. Sensory and perceptual systems, therefore, act like input channels; mental processes are analogous to software applications; memory storage is to disk storage; and, memory retrieval is to printer or screen display. Although Simon's analogy is compelling, many psychologists complained that it was too simplistic. Among the identified limitations of his analogy are the following:
- Human brains and computers function differently. Neurons communicate with each other electrochemically, while computer wire connections use only electricity. Neuronal connections are plastic, can strengthen or weaken, and can change, while wire connections are relatively permanent. Neurons can die and cannot easily be replaced, while wires can easily be changed without altering or damaging the memory of the computer.
- The mind processes ambiguous sensory information, whereas software applications manipulate user-coded information. Without human input, computers cannot work.
- Computers work faster, are more accurate, more consistent, with fewer errors, and can perform complex numerical calculations; unlike the human mind, which is prone to committing error. For instance, who can beat a computer calculate a 10-digit number with another 10-digit number?
- The human mind can learn new rules and concepts, and can generalize out of relationships and patterns, unlike computers, which require initial programming before it can process specific information in a specific manner.
- The human mind is aware of itself, whereas a computer doesn't know itself.
Despite the limitations of Simon's analogy, it stimulated further growth of cognitive psychology. The analogy sparked the interest of some cognitive psychologists to generate insights into how the mind processes information based on how computers work. It also pushed some other cognitive psychologists to investigate how the mind is further distinguished from computer software applications.
Cognitive psychology did not only benefit from the development of computers; at one end, it also stirred further growth of computer technology. Artificial intelligence was developed from the rise of cognitive psychology. Artificial intelligence is a technological innovation for machines that perform intelligent functions, such as diagnosing medical illnesses, prescribing treatments, examining equipment failure, evaluating loan applicants, and advising students on college courses.