Cognitive Psychology – Explaining Cognitive Phenomena



Cognitive PhenomenaAll forms of knowing and awareness, such as perceiving, conceiving, remembering, reasoning, judging, imagining, and problem solving. It is one of the traditionally identified components of mind. These aspects are studies under a branch of psychology known as cognitive psychology.

It is a fundamental task of cognitive science to define and to explain the information processing capacities of cognitive systems, and to provide a scientific account of how cognitive systems produce the adaptive and systematic intelligent behavior that they do.

In order to fully understand the concept of cognitive development, let us undertake the following exercise. Presented below is a list of twelve discrete words. You are expected to classify these words into suitable categories.

Your answers would probably range from colors to fruits to conductors, to alloys, etc. The same list of twelve words (stimulus) tends to elicit a different category classification (response) every time you read it. sed. Interesting, isn’t it? Given the same stimulus, the human mind is akin to reacting so diversely. Don’t you wonder why? The answer to this mystery is the phenomenon of Cognition. Let us now try to understand this phenomenon.

What is Cognition?

Cognition is not a simple concept. Literally to ‘cognize’ is ‘to know’, hence, cognition is’ knowing‘.

As Neisser (1976) puts it “Cognition is the activity of knowing: the acquisition, organization, and use of knowledge.” All our mental abilities – perceiving, remembering and reasoning, are organised into a complex system, the overall functioning of which is termed as cognition. This facet allows us to conclude that sensing, attending, perceiving, analyzing, etc., are various stages in the pursuit of cognition.

Accordingly, the primary focus in a cognitive analysis of learning is on the learner’s mental structure or schema, Which is a concept that includes not only the learner’s previous related knowledge and ideas, but also the strategies that the learner might bring to the present situation.

In this view the explicit assumption is, that learners are far from equal. And it is the individual’s pre-existing network of concepts, strategies and understanding that make experience meaningful and highly individualistic. This is the very essence of the process of cognition.

One of the major emphasis of the cognitive approaches deals with the ways in which information individuals process and store information. The current modes of cognitive functioning that are termed as the new cognitive sciences, basically look at three things:

i) The knowledge base – the storehouse of information, concepts and associations that we build up as we develop from children into adults

ii) The cognitive strategies – the processes by which information becomes a part of the knowledge base and one retrieves from it or uses it.

iii) Metacognition – which deals with the individual’s awareness of the self as a knower and processor of information.

Implications in other fields

The basic mechanisms governing human thought are important in understanding the types of behavior studied by other social sciences. For example, an appreciation of how humans think is important to understand.

Implication of cognitive psychology in other fields is seen as –

  • Clinical Psychology – Why certain thought malfunctions occur
  • Social Psychology – How people behave with other individuals or in groups
  • Political Science – How persuasion works
  • Economics – How they make economic decisions
  • Sociology – Why certain ways of organizing groups are more effective and stable than others
  • Linguistics – Why natural languages have certain features

Cognitive psychology is thus the foundation on which all other social sciences stand, in the same way that physics is the foundation for the other physical sciences.

Information Processing Approach

We live in a sensory jungle of information. No matter where we turn, there is a plenty of sights, smells, tastes and tactile sensations. Have you ever wondered how we make sense of this endless array of sensory inputs? How do we process this information?

The information processing approach seeks to explain just this. This approach tries to understand how people acquire information, how they process this information, store it and later recall it, when needed.


Information processing theory rests on a set of assumptions of which three are worth noting.

First, information is processed in steps or stages. The major steps typically include attending to a stimulus, recognizing it, transforming it into some type of mental representation, comparing it with information already stored in memory, assigning ,meaning to it, and acting on it in some fashion (Miller, 1983).

At an early processing stage, human beings encode information (represent it in thought) in somewhat superficial ways (as when they represent visual and auditory stimuli as true-to-life pictures and  sounds) and at later stages in more meaningful ways (as when they grasp the gist of an idea or its relationship to other ideas).

Second, there are limits on how much information can be processed at each stage. Although the absolute amount of information human beings can learn appears to be limitless, there must be gradual acquisition.

Third, the human information processing system is interactive. Information already stored in memory influences and is influenced by perception and attention. We see what our prior experiences direct us to see, and, in turn, what we see affects what we know.


You can see from the figure that the model of information processing is a composition of 3 memory stores and a set of controlled processes. Which, in fact, determine the flow of information from one store to another.

The memory stores are – Sensory Register(SR), Short Term Memory (STM) and Long Term Memory (LTM)

The processes involved are –

  • Recognition
  • Attention
  • Maintenance rehearsal
  • Elaborative rehearsal
  • Retrieval

The sensory register holds information in its original form for two or three seconds, during which time we may recognize and attend to it further. The process of recognition involves noticing key features of a stimulus and
integrating those features with relevant information from long-term memory, While the process of attention involves selective focusing on a portion of the information, in the sensory register.

Short-term memory holds about seven bits of information for about twenty seconds (in the absence of rehearsal). It is working memory because it contains information we are conscious of. Information is held in the short-term memory indefinitely through the use of maintenance rehearsal.

Which is rote repetition of information and it is transferred from short-term memory to long-term memory by linking the new information to related information in the long-term memory. This process is called elaborative rehearsal.

Important processes of Cognition are as follows – (click on topic for full article)


  • Galloti, K. M. (2004). Cognitive psychology in and out of the laboratory. USA: Thomson Wadsworth.
  • Matlin, M. (1994). Cognition. Bangalore: Harcourt Brace Pub.
  • Anderson, J. R. (2015). Cognitive psychology and its implications. New York: Worth Publishers

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