Apr 2, 2022 • 7M

Psychological Perspectives: The Cognitive Revolution

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In this series on psychological perspectives, we continue our journey in this article by delving into the cognitive revolution.

The brain was not important in the behaviourist perspective as it was observation-centric whereas the cognitive approach placed the brain and its functions at the centre of human behaviour. Cognitive psychology, in effect, tried to fill the gaps that remained in the behaviourist perspective.

The cognitive perspective explain human behaviour by analysing mental processes such as thoughts, language, memory, decision making, attention, and information processing which were overlooked by the behaviourists on the ground that they were not observable.

According to cognitivists, human beings are similar to information processors and their actions are determined by thoughts. The cognitivists compared the working of the human mind and brain with that of computers. According to them, the human mind acquires information through sensory organs acting as the input devices, and the information is passed on to the brain for processing. The processed information is translated as the behaviour which in this case is the output generated by the motor system.

In the 1950s, psychologists showed great interest in the study of mental processes. This study marked the shift from the behaviourist perspective that was dominant at that time. It marked the beginning of a series of exciting development in the field of psychology. This period is sometimes referred to as the cognitive revolution.

During this period, significant advancements in computing power and imaging technologies led to a renewed interest in the workings of the human brain. This, in turn, greatly influenced and advanced scientific studies of memory and attention in human beings.

The 1950s also witnessed a fierce battle between behaviourists and linguists on how children acquire language. The behaviourist camp, led by B.F Skinner, was of the opinion that children acquire language through learning. The linguists, led by Noam Chomsky, rejected this idea by claiming that the process is not as simple as that. Chomsky argued that human beings are pre-programmed to acquire language. According to this theory, language is innate to human beings.

Today, modern psychology is a blend of cognitivism and behaviourism.

The comparison of the brain with computers was replaced with the idea of neural networks in the late 1990s. A neural network consisted of a set of nodes, each responsible for storing specific types of information and functions. Each node is connected to other nodes within the same network, and each network is connected to other networks. A node is either excitatory or inhibitory. Activation of a particular node will activate all the similar nodes in a network.

Activation of an excitatory node will lead to a series of processes taking place, for example, the movement of the lips, vibration of the larynx, and regulation of lung function involved in asking a question. Activation of an inhibitory node will lead to a process being ended such as the stopping of speech production.

The modern-day cognitive perspective is a combination of cognitive psychology, cognitive neuroscience, and social constructivism.

The replacement of computer analogy with the neural network was considered a significant development in the field of psychology. However, it was nothing more than just a change in semantics. The neural network described above is not much different from how we describe the present-day internet. The idea of ‘human mind as a network’ paved the way for a lot of advancements in modern psychology.

Today, modern psychology is a blend of cognitivism and behaviourism. This approach is often termed the cognitive behavioural approach. Its practitioners analyse thought processes and observe people in their own environments. Let us take the example of a trainee teacher. Practitioners observe the signs of anxiety, confidence, or self-belief in the lead-up to an important lesson observation. After observing these signs, they also try to understand the perception of the individual on that particular event.

The modern-day cognitive perspective is a combination of cognitive psychology, cognitive neuroscience, and social constructivism. Cognitive psychologists study the cognitive processes like decision making, problem-solving, reasoning, remembering, and the use of language. They are also interested in the conscious processes and how non-conscious processes affect behaviour.

Cognitive neuroscientists analyse brain activities during a cognitive task with the help of brain mapping techniques. They are interested in the processes like how memories are created, how knowledge is created, and how language is learned.

Social constructivism is different from all these structural approaches. According to this approach, our sense of reality is socially constructed. It is not directly observable. It is the result of our own thinking as a social group.

Cognitive psychology has developed over the years, and it still has a significant role to play in the field of psychology. Now put on your thinking hats and think about the following questions for a couple of minutes:

1. As a teacher, how do you describe the difference between cognitivism and behaviourism to your students?

2. Can you think of the differences between excitatory nodes and inhibitory nodes?

3. What do you think of the contributions of cognitivists in the development of modern psychology?

Write down your thoughts and discuss them with your students, children, and your colleagues. Listen to their views and compare them with your own. As you listen to others, note how similar or different your views are to others’.

We will explore more perspectives in future articles in this series. Until then, happy teaching!

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