What is Cognitive Psychology?

Published on: 18 May 2020
Clinically Reviewed by Jill E. Daino, LCSW-R
cognitive psychology

Have you ever wondered why you remember mundane events that occurred when you were a toddler, but you can’t seem to remember an activity from the previous week? Or, when you meet new people, you don’t understand why you remember some names and forget others. Well, it has to do with cognitive psychology, a branch of psychology that encourages a close observation of the things that we do and why we do them. Cognitive psychology also helps us more deeply understand ourselves and increase the overall quality of our life.

Defining Cognitive Psychology

Simply put, cognitive psychology is the branch of psychology devoted to the study of mental processes, especially though that play a role in our ability to think, remember things, express ourselves creatively, make decisions, learn new things, and draw conclusions. These processes obviously encompass a wide range of mental activities; cognitive psychology focuses on how sensation and stimulation impact our behavior.Cognitive psychology is used in many roles and professions including education, engineering, law, public health and many more. Research in the field of cognitive theory has helped produce innovative therapy techniques, provided ways to modify people’s decision-making abilities, and introduced progressive ways to enhance learning.

Cognitive psychology provides a useful framework for changing behaviors, since behaviors are driven by our thoughts. Even in light of the current pandemic, we can see how thoughts influence actions. When people became fearful that there might not be an adequate supply of food and basic necessities to sustain them during the period of lockdown, they began to take action to alleviate that fear through panic-buying. This resulted in a shortage of supplies like toilet paper and cleaning supplies.

The focus of cognitive psychology typically involves using information to form new thought patterns that lead to better actions and optimized results. If we are to correct the problems caused by things like panic-buying, we must correct the thought processes that lead to it, which will result in changed behaviors.

How Cognitive Psychology Helps Us Understand Our Behavior

The human brain has the capacity to experience thoughts, turn those thoughts into ideas, make judgement on those ideas, properly and properly order and organize the ideas, all before taking an action-oriented position based on these perceptions. This is a complex process that the study of cognitive psychology can help us to understand.

Your thoughts create your perceptions and your reality. They affect every aspect of your life. For instance, if you believe that, in a pandemic, the world is doomed, you may come across situations that heighten your panic — empty grocery shelves — and those incidents will strengthen your beliefs. In the pandemic’s wake you may react by spreading panic to others who see your reaction.

According to Nancy Brooks, a licensed psychologist, the theory and practice of cognitive psychology helps to change thought distortions. When you alter the thoughts or perceived stressors that contribute to your problems, you can change your perception for the better.

“An example of a thought distortion is the belief that if you are a good person, then good things should happen to you, and this is not the case” she said. “Thoughts like these set you up for a letdown, so it’s important to find ways to reframe them into something more realistic. Accepting that some bad things can also happen to you, even though you are a good person, is a better adjustment to your thought process.”

Since your thoughts affect your behavior, it is clear that a few tweaks in your thinking can change your overall view on life, and help you become a happier person.

Other Ways That Cognitive Psychology Helps Us Today

Cognitive psychology does not only help in dealing with negative thought patterns, it also does a great deal in a variety of areas related to cognition. Many cognitive psychologists focus on treating and working directly with people who are affected by brain disorders, psychological illnesses, and behavioral disorders.

You may consult a cognitive psychologist if you are experiencing sensory or perception disorders, or if you have a language or speech disorder. They also specialize in treating persons with learning disabilities. Cognitive psychology helps in the treatment of conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. It also has an impact in the area of education, as it helps teachers assess their students’ learning abilities and develop and adapt more suitable teaching strategies. For students, or those who love to learn, implementing the appropriate cognitive strategies can help improve your skills and enhance your memory. Memorization strategies t include summarizing readings and reflecting on the things you read, learn, or observe.

Generally, we tend to take abilities — like reasoning and perception — for granted because they are so intrinsic to our experience as humans in the world. However, those suffering from cognitive disorders — like dementia or Alzheimer’s disease — may find it difficult to carry out daily activities. With the help of cognitive psychologists, those living with these disorders are able to get treatment to improve some functioning.

Cognitive Psychology and Mental Health

Cognitive psychology is also a useful tool in treating mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. For instance, in the treatment of mild depression, many psychiatrists, in addition to antidepressants, recommend therapy for patients, who can learn to develop positive thought and behavior patterns as an effective way to prevent a relapse into a depressive state.

Cognitive psychology is also the basis for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a popular form of therapy that helps us become more aware of thought patterns, challenging irrational beliefs, and viewing ourselves and others with greater clarity.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a popular and effective outgrowth of cognitive psychologyCognitive therapy, a particular form of CBT, focuses on the mental processes behind a person’s behavior, rather than on the behavior itself. It stresses that mental processes that lead to behavior can be changed, and thus the behavior will change more easily.A team of researchers from the University of Miami conducted a survey that measured the impact of cognitive behavioral therapy stress management coping techniques on early-stage breast cancer patients. The women who were involved in the survey went through ten weeks of CBT-based stress management programs. After this period they reported emotional improvements, lower levels of stress, positively regulated cortisol functioning, less inflammation throughout the body, improved immune system functioning, and positive changes in the way certain genes expressed.

The benefits from the study of cognitive psychology have been felt across the world — including in educational psychology, social psychology, abnormal psychology, developmental psychology, linguistics, and economics. Cognitive psychology helps us to understand ourselves and others, learn more effectively, change unwanted behaviors, and help in managing some mood disorders. This research has opened up new schools and ways of treating mental illness. If you’re struggling with thoughts or behaviors that might be helped by changing the way you think of them, try connecting with a licensed therapist online today.

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

Our goal at Talkspace is to provide the most up-to-date, valuable, and objective information on mental health-related topics in order to help readers make informed decisions.

Articles contain trusted third-party sources that are either directly linked to in the text or listed at the bottom to take readers directly to the source.

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