Teaching Cognitive Psychology

Cognitive psychology courses students with knowledge of theories and research concerning the sub-discipline of psychology that explores mental processes such as perception, thinking, learning and memory especially with respect to the internal events occurring between sensory stimulation and the overt expression of behavior. As part of the larger field of cognitive science, this branch of psychology is related to other disciplines including neuroscience, philosophy, and linguistics.

Cognitive psychology is connected to many disciplines. Those interested in studying cognitive psychology could be students focusing on behavioral neuroscience, linguistics, industrial-organizational psychology, or even artificial intelligence. Teachers, educators and curriculum designers consider this branch of psychology valuable because it allows them to learn more about how people process, learn and remember information. Engineers, scientists, artists, architects and designers can all benefit from understanding internal mental states and processes.

The topics examined by cognitive psychologists concern aspects of people's everyday experience that are often taken for granted. Yet these topics can present significant challenges to the understanding of human psychology. Programs of study may be designed to help students prepare for careers in pure research — typically in university settings — or applied research in industry, where the skills of cognitive psychologists are in demand. The training goal is achieved through coursework, research experience, teaching experience, and scholarly interaction.

To improve research skills, students are required to actively take part in research throughout the course they attend. Students typically begin research under the supervision of their faculty mentor and then become increasingly more independent as they progress. Students, especially those in the United States, are expected to publish their work in professional journals.

Since many students who graduate obtain positions in an academic setting, they are encouraged to gain some teaching experience. This experience includes serving as teaching assistants in the early part of their graduate training and teaching courses in the later part of their graduate careers. Therefore, to foster the development of teaching skills, some educational institutions help students obtain direct teaching experience and provide additional opportunities to develop teaching skills, if desired. Students may be invited to teach lecture-oriented courses.

Cognitive psychology introductory courses usually start with a definition of cognitive psychology and identification of key milestones in the creation of cognitive psychology as a type of discipline. They also include discussions about the importance of behavioral observation in cognitive psychology and an explanation of the role of the brain in cognitive functions. Teachers of cognitive psychology try to provide better understanding of processes such as the cognitive approach to psychology, memory, language and thinking. Therefore, a typical cognitive psychology course would be divided into separate units to offer students insights into these processes.

For example, a part of the course would be dedicated to the cognitive approach — the approach of trying to understand how the mind works when processing information, how it perceives aspects of the environment, how it pays attention to certain things and how it manages to recognize objects and people. Another part would deal with memory and the different kinds of memory and their different properties. A section could focus on language and how individuals process language. It would consider topics such as the use language to categorize objects and explores the rich interaction between language and thought. Yet another section will explore thinking and question such as how we reason, how we make decisions and how we solve problems.

The process of teaching cognitive psychology should not dispense with the topics of emotion and consciousness that present direct challenges to the cognitive approach. Including these topics will help students learn more about how different aspects of cognitive psychology are linked but will also illustrate how different areas of psychology can be used together. It will also examine how cognitive psychology can be applied in different contexts, for instance, in the field of eyewitness testimonies.

Teaching cognitive psychology often involves experimentation which is believed to help develop skills associated with designing, running and analyzing experiments. The experiments, aimed at finding out how people acquire, process and store information, often require research laboratories with modern equipment and individual testing rooms equipped with additional computing resources available for experimental design and analysis.

Teaching Cognitive Psychology: Selected full-text books and articles

Cognitive Psychology: An Overview for Cognitive Scientists By Lawrence W. Barsalou Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1992
Cognitive Process Instruction: Research on Teaching Thinking Skills By Jack Lochhead; John Clement Franklin Institute Press, 1979
Foundations of Cognitive Science: The Essential Readings By Jay L. Garfield Paragon House, 1990
A primary source is a work that is being studied, or that provides first-hand or direct evidence on a topic. Common types of primary sources include works of literature, historical documents, original philosophical writings, and religious texts.
Context and Cognition: Ways of Learning and Knowing By Paul Light; George Butterworth Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1993
An Introduction to Applied Cognitive Psychology By Anthony Esgate; David Groome; Kavin Baker; David Heathcote; Richard Kemp; Mora Maguire; Corriene Reed Psychology Press, 2005
Applications of Cognitive Psychology: Problem Solving, Education, and Computing By Dale E. Berger; Kathy Pezdek; William P. Banks Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1987
Cognitive Psychology Applied By Chizuko Izawa Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1993
Experienced Cognition By Richard A. Carlson Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1997
Complex Problem Solving: Principles and Mechanisms By Robert J. Sternberg; Peter A. Frensch Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1991
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