The scientific investigation of human cognition incorporating new technologies in psychological sciences is referred to cognitive psychology. Cognitive psychologists tend to know the process of mental abilities such as thinking, perceiving, learning, and reasoning, and to know how people acquire and apply information (Galotti 2013). Experiments in this area are related to stimulus and response. Cognitive psychologists accept scientific methods (Block 2014). This is a broad area and requires the psychologists to research a broad arena of research topics. The assignment intends to discuss the validity of the statement “Cognitive Psychologists prefer experimental method over other research methods to study cognitive processes”. The assignment provides a background to cognitive processes and gives evidence of using experimental method to study different cognitive processes. Further, examples from different research studies conducted in this area are presented. Other ideas and examples of research methods used by the psychologists such as case studies, interviews to study the cognitive process are highlighted in the paper. The methods, which are prominent in the study of cognition, are discussed and analysed in the assignment.
Background of the study of cognitive processes
Many cognitive psychologists prefer and use quantitative research methods for studying the process of cognition. Experimental designs are used to study cognitive processes for example the effect of noise on the mathematical efficiency. These methods include both control and experimental groups in their research studies. Mental functions are studied via psychological experimentation and involve indirect methods such as reasoning. It helps in understanding the behaviour influencing factors (). Based on the observations of visible actions the researcher makes conclusions. In experimental research methods, there is a benefit of altering the manipulated factors in a desired way. Numerous modern approaches have been developed in cognitive psychology based on the experimental studies. It led to development of various empirical methods and its verification over time. The results obtained have helped in finding of enhanced approaches in the field of psychology. According to Galotti (2013) behaviour can be understood by meditational processes such as attention, perception, as they mediate between the stimulus and response. Therefore, the behaviourist approach cannot be used to study the internal behaviour or measure objectively without knowing person’s mind. Hence, cognitive approaches use laboratory experiments the method of introspection, memory psychology, interviews, case studies, observations and computer modelling. Reed (2012) described that cognitive neuropsychology explained cognitive dysfunction by using existing theories. It uses distinct methods such as “Qualitative analysis of behaviour”, “Neuropsychological test batteries”, “Group and single-case studies”.
Introspection method developed by Wundt, was one of the early methodologies used in the cognitive psychology to study the elements of perception. These methods provide valuable insights (Fiske and Taylor 2013). The interview method used by Piaget and Kohlberg on the other hand involves social interaction. These methods include asking different set of questions to different vulnerable groups in formal, informal or in structured manner (Bryman 2015). Cognitive psychologists also use observational and systematic studies to reveal different cognitive abilities in human. For example, Jean Piaget have undertaken detailed observational studies including series of ingenious tests to reveal child’s cognitive development.
In quasi-experimental study designs, the investigator studies the naturally occurring groups. The researcher can take separate groups of men and women to study their mathematical performance without being able to manipulate their sex (Kane et al. 2016). Using the correlational research methods, the cognitive psychologists can for example hypothesise a positive relation between IQ scores and working memory capacity. Cognitive psychologists use this method as it eliminates the drawbacks associated with the random assignment of participants (Lachman et al. 2015). According to Lin et al. (2016) some cognitive psychologists prefer psychobiological research methods to identify the relationship between the “cognition and the brain's structures and activities.” With the help of the post-mortem studies, the brains of normal individuals can be compared with those having cognitive deficits. Animal studies are high used as it is difficult to probe the living human brains. In one such Nobel-prize winning research method, cat brain was inserted with microelectrodes to record the electrical activity of the visual cortex cells (Einevoll et al. 2013). Further, with the development of computing techniques, the “computational modeling” today presents a useful method of studying cognitive functions. With magnetic resonance imaging and similar other methods such as “Positron Emission Tomography (PET)” and “Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI)”, the study of brain structures and active areas have become easy for researchers (Laureiro?Mart?nez et al. 2015).
It was evident from the study of Johnson and Busemeyer (2016) that cognitive psychologists conduct Process-tracing studies to record the “focus of attention” of the participants across time. For example in protocol analysis the subject is asked to continually think out loud as if working on some task. Later the researcher records and transcribes the verbalizations followed by its coding and analysis. Such studies have been found to indicate the complexity of participants’ thought. Other similar methods include computer mouse tracking, eye movement tracking, and diaries (Siegler 2016). The study executed by Saxe (2015) highlighted that many cognitive psychologists used case studies for intensely investigating the individuals having cognitive deficits or any exceptional abilities. These studies were useful in identifying the inability to form new memories. For example the famous case study of “Henry Gustav Molaison (1926-2008),” who participated in various research studies after losing the ability to form new memories following a brain operation to relieve epilepsy. Other research methods used in cognitive psychology are observing subjects in real-life settings where they may be covert or aware. This method offcourse involves ethical considerations. Sternberg and Sternberg (2016) described that in cognitive psychology, the aspects of human psychology are imitated using computer simulations an artificial intelligences. It makes use of particular theory in computer program which if produces output resembling human responses confirms that coherence and plausibility of the theory.
Newport (2016) highlighted that laboratory experiments are preferred by the cognitive psychologists typically to study human behaviour. It is believed that cognitive approach is the scientific one. Rigorous and strict laboratory investigations have helped in understanding the human mind, and information processing system by shifting away from studying the “conditioned behaviour and psychoanalytical notions”. This idea of information processing using computer as tool worked as a model for cognitive psychologists to understand how human thought works. In late 1950’s this cognitive approach have revolutionised psychology. This computer analogy was based on assumptions that there are series of processing systems that processes the information available from the environment including attention, short-term memory, and others. The information is transformed or altered in systematic manner, by the processing systems. The cognitive psychologists then specify the processes and structures underlying cognitive performance. The human information processing resembles that in computers (Barsalou 2014).
The various methods of experimental cognitive psychology (Einevoll et al. 2013) includes-
- Chronometric methods- reaction times were used to measure brain function such as subtraction method. This helped to analyse the time taken by human to perceive the stimulus and execute the motor response
- Sternberg’s paradigm- introduced the psychology of speed of retrieval from short-term memory. Experimenting with group of people it was found that the reaction time increases linearly as per the number of items held in memory. It concluded that the “short-term memory scanning is a serial process”.
- Distractor techniques- helped in identifying how long a subject can hold information and rate of its decay during distraction.
- Tachistoscopic methods- are interesting tool which provide information on visual memory functions, visualmotor response speed and simple visual sensory acuity while assessing individual patient assessment
- Dichotic listening research- in this experiment subjects are exposed to 2 different auditory stimuli simultaneously. In each trial the subjects were presented with three pairs of dichotic digits and were allowed to recall. The subjects have damage to either the left or the right temporal lobe. The results indicated an advantage to right ear which reported items presented with greater accuracy
Piaget was the first psychologist, who preferred observational studies to measure how children count, solve problems and to know how the idea of time, causality, and number emerged in them. His work was described as “genetic epistemology” meaning the origin of thinking (Siegler 2016). Based on this studies Piaget has developed various cognitive theories on how children constructs “a mental model of the world”. Thus, Piaget gave three components of cognitive theory that is schemas, adaptation process, and different stages of development. This has useful educational implications. The ideas of Piaget related to child developmental psychology has enormous influence, which changed the way of communication with children.
However, Montello (2016) criticises that cognitive approach ignores biology, and cannot objectively study behaviourism. (MacDonald and Ritvo 2016) argued that the experimental methods for studying cognition have certain drawbacks. While experimenting an artificial environment is set up this may lead to unintentional ignorance of coherences and certain facts. This may be due to suppression of various factors for attaining clarity. The focus of the participant is determined by experimenter’s instructions and hence the natural factors that are influencing the “focus of attention” are rarely understood. P?chhacker (2016) also argued that since the mental phenomena are studied in isolation, the experimental setup decouples the aspect at “issue from adjacent and interacting mental processes”. Therefore, not in real life but in idealised experimental setting the results appear to be valid. Hence, it does not ensure the internal validity. Further, it also includes 30% variance not considering the individual differences. The challenge for future cognitive psychology experiments is to involve the knowledge of individual differences in general studies.
Moreover, the introspection method is also subjective and has unscientific nature. This method ran into difficulties because people were themselves unaware of their behaviour and underlying reasons (Reed 2012). The structured interview method was also criticised because close-ended questions lacked details of an individual’s particular behaviour. However, the unstructured interview generates valid data with detailed analysis of an individual with specific psychological problem. There is a chance of error during interpretation of group interviews requiring thematic analysis (Bryman 2015). On the other hand, Moran (2016) criticises that the “information processing paradigm of cognitive psychology”. Although the human mind has resemblance with the computer, the mind does not process information exactly like the computers. The later too does not have emotions like human. The observational studies started by Piaget are also criticised as his concentration on universal stages of biological maturation and cognitive development fails to consider the effect of culture and social setting. This social interaction method and clinical interviews are subjected to biased interpretation when compared to other research methods (Bryman 2015).
To perform research in the cognitive science, combining different approaches and methods together is an effective and productive way. It assists to gain an overall picture from the research area comprising the views and ideas from different fields (Block 2014). However, cognitive science is not yet successful in merging different areas together. The report has provided a brief overview of some of the research methods used by the cognitive psychologists. However, every method has some drawbacks. However, the classical experimental methods still present the “core approach to testing and developing models of cognitive function”. Many breakthroughs in understanding the human cognition was provided by ingenious experimental designs.
The aim of the paper was to discuss the validity of the statement “Cognitive Psychologists prefer experimental method over other research methods to study cognitive processes”. Based on critical analysis, this statement is valid in some but not all cases. The significance of the requirement of sound theoretical background while conducting research in cognitive psychology is well known. There are no words to further emphasise on it importance and particularly in view of using advanced neurophysiological techniques like MRI, PET. Inspite of various methods developed what is known about the brain and cognition is still piecemeal. It is useless to perform imaging without good psychology. There is no point being biased towards one particular research method over others. There is need of careful cooperation and research planning among various fields of cognitive neuroscience. Only this can ensure possibility of future breakthroughs in understanding cognitive psychologists.
Barsalou, L.W., 2014. Cognitive psychology: An overview for cognitive scientists. Psychology Press.
Block, R.A., 2014. Cognitive models of psychological time. Psychology Press.
Bryman, A., 2015. Social research methods. Oxford university press.
Einevoll, G.T., Kayser, C., Logothetis, N.K. and Panzeri, S., 2013. Modelling and analysis of local field potentials for studying the function of cortical circuits. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 14(11), pp.770-785.
Fiske, S.T. and Taylor, S.E., 2013. Social cognition: From brains to culture. Sage.
Galotti, K.M., 2013. Cognitive psychology in and out of the laboratory. SAGE.
Johnson, J.G. and Busemeyer, J.R., 2016. A Computational Model of the Attention Process in Risky Choice.
Kane, M.J., Meier, M.E., Smeekens, B.A., Gross, G.M., Chun, C.A., Silvia, P.J. and Kwapil, T.R., 2016. Individual differences in the executive control of attention, memory, and thought, and their associations with schizotypy. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 145(8), p.1017.
Lachman, R., Lachman, J.L. and Butterfield, E.C., 2015. Cognitive psychology and information processing: An introduction. Psychology Press.
Laureiro?Mart?nez, D., Brusoni, S., Canessa, N. and Zollo, M., 2015. Understanding the exploration–exploitation dilemma: An fMRI study of attention control and decision?making performance. Strategic Management Journal, 36(3), pp.319-338.
Lin, Y., Durbin, J.M. and Rancer, A.S., 2016. Math Anxiety, Need for Cognition, and Learning Strategies in Quantitative Communication Research Methods Courses. Communication Quarterly, pp.1-20.
MacDonald, S.E. and Ritvo, S., 2016. Comparative Cognition Outside the Laboratory. Comparative Cognition & Behavior Reviews, 11.
Montello, D.R., 2016. Behavioral Methods for Spatial Cognition Research. Research Methods for Environmental Psychology, p.161.
Moran, A.P., 2016. The psychology of concentration in sport performers: A cognitive analysis. Psychology Press.
Newport, E.L., 2016. Statistical language learning: Computational, maturational, and linguistic constraints. Language and Cognition, 8(03), pp.447-461.
P?chhacker, F., 2016. Introducing interpreting studies. Routledge.
Reed, S.K., 2012. Cognition: Theories and applications. CENGAGE learning.
Saxe, G.B., 2015. Culture and cognitive development: Studies in mathematical understanding. Psychology Press.
Siegler, R.S., 2016. Continuity and change in the field of cognitive development and in the perspectives of one cognitive developmentalist. Child Development Perspectives, 10(2), pp.128-133.
Sternberg, R. and Sternberg, K., 2016. Cognitive psychology. Nelson Education.