What you will study
Many of the topics studied by cognitive psychologists concern aspects of our everyday experience that we often take for granted. Yet these topics can present significant challenges to our understanding of human psychology.
The module is divided into five main parts, all of which are covered in the main module text. The first four develop some of the principal areas of investigation in cognitive psychology, and raise fundamental questions about human minds and behaviour. The last part looks at some of the topics that challenge the cognitive approach.
The first part introduces the cognitive approach to psychology – the approach of trying to understand the workings of the mind in terms of processing information – and considers how we perceive aspects of our immediate environment, how we pay attention to certain things and not others, and how we manage to recognise objects and people.
The second part is devoted to memory, especially on how what we may think of as ‘memory’ is actually composed of many different kinds of memory, each with different properties. The section explores immediate memories, such as how we remember a phone number for long enough to write it down to autobiographical memories, our personal record that stretches across a lifetime.
The third part of the module focuses on language, both how we as individuals process language, and how those processes differ when language is used in a social context, such as a conversation. It also considers how we use language to categorise objects and explores the rich interaction between language and thought.
The fourth part of the module focuses on thinking, that is, on how we reason, how we make judgements and come to decisions, and how we set about solving problems.
Finally, the fifth part of the module focuses more explicitly on topics that have often been seen as presenting direct challenges to the cognitive approach – the topics of emotion and consciousness. This part also examines how cognitive psychology can be applied in different contexts, in assessing the accuracy of eyewitness testimony in forensic settings and in understanding what is meant by “intelligence”. This section not only links different aspects of cognitive psychology but also illustrates how different areas of psychology, cognitive, social, developmental etc. can be used together.
Throughout, the module indicates the close links between the topics studied by cognitive psychologists and our everyday experience and how cognitive psychological ideas and insight might apply in the wider world.
Although the topics are divided roughly into five parts, there are a number of strands of cognitive psychology which are developed in parallel throughout the module, and which link to the various methods used by cognitive psychologists.
Experimentation is a key method, and throughout the module you will develop skills associated with designing, running and analysing experiments. You will have the opportunity to gain insight into different experimental techniques by participating in a number of experimental studies. For your assignments you will learn how to run an experiment using specialist software (on CD-ROM), how to modify experimental designs, how to collect data from participants and how to organise the data in preparation for analysis. You will learn how to develop a design for a study from a hypothesis and a body of literature, and to consider some of the relevant practical and ethical issues in running this study. Finally, at the residential school (or the ALE if you are unable to attend the residential school) you will put all this knowledge to use in developing and running an experimental project that you have designed yourself – with a little help from your tutor.
Allied to experimentation, a key skill for cognitive psychologists is how to convey the essence of an experimental investigation in a project report. Your assignments will develop this skill, culminating in the write-up of the residential school (or ALE) project in a way that matches conventional journal standards.
The analysis of experimental data is another key skill, and the course highlights a number of techniques for analysing data that relate to the project work. You will learn to use specialist software (on CD-ROM) to analyse data and to present and interpret the results.
A number of other key methods are also explored in the course, including those that relation what happens in the brain to our cognitive processes. Cognitive neuropsychology investigates how studying people who have experienced brain damage can help us understand the relationship between brain and behaviour. While neuroimaging techniques allow us to track brain activity as participants engage in cognitive tasks, experimental work with human participants raises complex methodological issues and ethical questions that are considered in depth. The course also introduces examples of how computers can be used to model and simulate cognitive processes in a variety of areas from face recognition to understanding language.
In sum, the course:
develops the core content areas of cognitive psychology, focusing on topics within the areas of perception, attention and memory, and thinking and language
presents key debates, issues and controversies with which a cognitive psychological approach engages
illustrates how cognitive psychology can provide an underpinning for applied psychological research
shows how different methods are integrated within cognitive psychology, including experimental studies, neuropsychological and neuroimaging studies, and cognitive modelling
offers a sound grounding in experimental and statistical methods used in cognitive psychological research
provides the experience of conducting a substantive piece of empirical research.
A knowledge of psychology is considered useful in professions ranging from marketing to personnel work. An understanding of research techniques and statistical methods is also a sought-after skill, with relevance outside the immediate area of psychology. If you take this module as part of a complete set of psychology modules, such that you can gain professional recognition, many kinds of psychological work may be open to you – the prison service, educational psychology, applied (workplace) psychology, for example – although many professions require further, postgraduate training.