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Cognitive psychology

How does memory work? How do we understand language? How do we think? These are just some of the questions related to everyday experience you’ll address on this module. Beginning with core topics – perception and attention; categorisation and language; and memory, thinking and reasoning – you’ll then explore wider issues, such as emotion and consciousness, topics that have presented a challenge to the cognitive approach. Throughout, you’ll be asked to examine theories, evidence and arguments as well as the methods of cognitive psychology, including neuropsychology and neuroimaging. Using a computer, you’ll also be guided through techniques of data analysis and experimentation, and will engage in your own project work.

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OU qualifications are modular in structure; the credits from this undergraduate-level module could count towards a certificate of higher education, diploma of higher education, foundation degree or honours degree.

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Module code
Study level
3 10 6
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
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Entry requirements
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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.

Vocational relevance

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.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will help you with the study material and mark and comment on your written work, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance. We may also be able to offer group tutorials or day schools that you are encouraged, but not obliged, to attend. Where your tutorials are held will depend on the distribution of students taking the module.

Contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

You will be expected to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) online through the eTMA system unless there are some difficulties which prevent you from doing so. In these circumstances, you must negotiate with your tutor to get their agreement to submit your assignment on paper.

Three of the TMAs address different aspects of project work; three involve writing essays. 

Residential school

The one-week compulsory residential school is devoted to independent project work and to consolidation and more in-depth exploration of the module topics. Prior to the school, you will be offered a range of project topics. Some of these will involve using a computer to control experiments, but there will also be project options that do not require this kind of computer use. You will conduct a project under the close supervision of tutors, and technical support will also be available. Your project will form the basis of a compulsory assignment submitted after the residential school. Though the project work forms the central feature of the residential school, time will also be devoted to discussing different aspects of the module, learning about particular areas in more depth, revision of topics, and preparation for future assignments and the examination. The school also provides an excellent opportunity to learn and discuss with other students, and to meet and engage with tutors and members of the module team. 

The one-week residential school will run over four dates in July.

Additional costs

All students attending residential schools are responsible for their cost of travel to the venue.

If you are resident in England or outside the UK, the tuition fee does not include accommodation and meals at the residential school and you will be asked to pay an additional fee of up to £255. 

If you are resident in Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales, the cost of your accommodation and meals is included in the module fee.

If you are already a student studying under transitional fee arrangements, this additional fee for accommodation and meals does not apply to you. 

If you have any queries regarding residential school fees, please contact us.

Alternative Learning Experience (ALE)

If it is impossible for you to attend the Residential School, you may apply to undertake the Alternative Learning Experience (ALE). The ALE is modelled on the format of the residential school project. Prior to the ALE, you will be offered a range of project topics. Most project options will not involve the use of a computer to control experiments. You will conduct a project under the close supervision of tutors, given principally using electronic conferencing. Some limited technical support will also be available via electronic conferencing. Your project will form the basis of a compulsory assignment submitted after the ALE.

You must satisfactorily participate in either the Residential School or the ALE to gain credit for the module.

The ALE begins after the summer school ends and runs for three weeks, requiring a minimum of a couple of hours a day, every day. You will need to have access to a computer and the internet during the whole of this period.

Future availability

The details given here are for the module that starts in February 2015 when it will be available for the last time. A new module – Investigating psychology 3 (DE300) – is planned for October 2016.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the Module Regulations and the Student Regulations which are available on our Essential documents website.

Course work includes:

6 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
Embedded residential school

Course satisfaction survey

See the satisfaction survey results for this course.


This is an OU level 3 module. OU level 3 modules build on study skills and subject knowledge acquired from previous studies at levels 1 and 2. They are intended only for students who have recent experience of higher education in a related subject. 

You are strongly advised to have previously taken an introductory psychology module, such as our level 2 module Exploring psychology (DSE212). You will be expected to write clear, well-structured essays demonstrating the ability to compare and assess different theoretical perspectives. You will also be expected, with guidance, to carry out and write up reports of practical projects.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service.

Preparatory work

Before you begin the module, you may like to read Cognitive Psychology: A Student's Handbook by Michael W. Eysenck and Mark T. Keane (Psychology Press).


Start End England fee Register
24 Jan 2015 Oct 2015 £2632.00

Registration closes 08/01/15 (places subject to availability)


The deadline for financial support applications has now passed

February 2015 is the final start date for this course. For more information, see Future availability.

Additional Costs

Residential School fees

This module will include a residential school, when you study this the tuition fee may not include accommodation and meals, and you may be asked to pay an additional fee of up to £255. You will also be responsible for the cost of your travel to the venue. If you're on a low income you will be able to apply for help with these costs after you've registered.

Ways to pay for this module

Open University Student Budget Account

The Open University Student Budget Accounts Ltd (OUSBA) offers a convenient 'pay as you go' option to pay your OU fees, which is a secure, quick and easy way to pay. Please note that The Open University works exclusively with OUSBA and is not able to offer you credit facilities from any other provider. All credit is subject to status and proof that you can afford the repayments.

You pay the OU through OUSBA in one of the following ways:

  • Register now, pay later – OUSBA pays your module fee direct to the OU. You then repay OUSBA interest-free and in full just before your module starts. 0% APR representative. This option could give you the extra time you may need to secure the funding to repay OUSBA.
  • Pay by instalments – OUSBA calculates your annual fees and spreads them out over up to a year, enabling you to pay your fees monthly and walk away with a qualification without any further debt. APR 5.1% representative.

Read more about Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).  

Employer sponsorship

Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU qualifications are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to achieve one. They also value the skills that students learn and can apply in the workplace.

More than one in 10 OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the qualification you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could approach your employer to see if they will sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. 

  • Your employer just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.
  • You won’t need to get your employer to complete the form until after you’ve chosen your modules.  

Credit/debit card

You can pay part or all of your tuition fees upfront with a debit or credit card when you register for each module. 

We accept American Express, Maestro (UK only), Mastercard, Visa/Delta and Visa Electron. 

Gift vouchers

You can pay for part or all of your tuition fees with OU gift vouchers. Vouchers are currently available in the following denominations, £10, £20, £50 and £100. 

Mixed payments

We know that sometimes you may want to combine payment options. You may, for example wish to pay part of your tuition fee with a debit card and pay the remainder in instalments through an Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).

For more information about combining payment options, speak to an adviser or request a call back.

Note: Your permanent address/domicile will affect your fee status and therefore the fees you are charged and any financial support available to you. The fee and funding information provided here is valid for courses starting before 31 July 2015. Fees normally increase annually in line with inflation. Fees for courses starting from 1 August 2015 will be available in March 2015.
This information was provided on 21/12/2014.

What's included

Module books, other printed materials, CD-ROMs, website.

Computing requirements

You will need a computer with internet access to study this module. It includes online activities – you can access using a web browser – and some module software provided on disk.

  • If you have purchased a new desktop or laptop computer running Windows since 2008 you should have no problems completing the computer-based activities.
  • A netbook, tablet or other mobile device is not suitable for this module – check our Technical requirements section.
  • If you have an Apple Mac or Linux computer – please note that you can only use it for this module by running Windows on it using Boot Camp or a similar dual-boot system.

You can also visit the Technical requirements section for further computing information (including details of the support we provide).

If you have a disability

Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) versions of the printed study materials are available, although some Adobe PDF components may not be available or fully accessible using a screen reader. The printed study material is available in comb bound format. The printed study materials are also available as audio in the DAISY Digital Talking Book format. Transcripts are available for any audio-visual material. 

You may find it beneficial to have the assistance of a helper with some of the projects and experiments conducted at home, and in the Alternative Learning Experience (ALE). The ALE is modelled on the format of the residential school week and takes place over a period of three weeks, requiring a minimum of a couple of hours a day, every day. Project work at residential school, which provides the opportunity to work closely with tutors and other students, should not present a serious difficulty. Elements of this module are delivered online so if you use specialist hardware or software to assist you in using a computer or the internet and have concerns about accessing this type of material you are advised to talk to the Student Registration & Enquiry Service about support which can be given to meet your needs. After you have registered you will receive detailed information about the residential school site and the facilities available to help with the academic programme. 

If you have particular study requirements please tell us as soon as possible, as some of our support services may take several weeks to arrange. Find out more about our services for disabled students.