Psychology and Cognitive Science


Table of Contents


The focus of cognitive science is to present and allow a scientific understanding of the manner in which cognition in human beings works and how this cognition is possible. It thus divulges into cognitive functions such as perception and memory in its subject matter. Cognitive science can hence be defined as the scientific and interdisciplinary scrutiny of the human mind and that of its processes (Glaser 2013: 37). The interdisciplinary fields that contribute to cognitive science include neuroscience, psychology, and philosophy of the mind, biology, linguistics, computer science, sociology, and anthropology. Each of these disciplinary fields contributes to the discourse of cognitive science. Psychology in this regard is an applied and academic discipline encompassing the scientific study of behaviour, mind and thought, with consideration of the conscious and unconscious phenomena (Chi 2014: 69). Psychology, as a discipline, contributes several perspectives that allow a better understanding of human cognition including behaviourist, psychodynamic, cognitive psychology and humanist perspectives. This paper seeks to explore the perspectives offered by psychology in a bid to understand the cognitive science and the process of cognition. 

The various perspectives or approaches include some beliefs or assumptions about the behaviour of human beings and each approach many contain various varying theories, but they nonetheless share some common fundamental assumptions. The variety and the differences in the perspectives of understanding human cognition have their strengths and weaknesses and highlight the rich and divergent nature of the human species (Glaser 2013: 99). The first perspective the psychology contributes towards the understanding of the human cognition is the behaviourist perspective.

The behaviourist perspective of understanding human behaviour and functionality of the mind presents that human beings or the other animals subjects of their environments and that their behaviour and mind patterns make them the outcome of the information learned from their environments (Otero and Graesser 2014: 42). A nonprofessional understanding of behavioural psychology may, for instance, involve a rat trapped in a box or a maze trying to figure a way out of the maze. Behaviourism is primarily concerned with stimuli and response (Gentner and Stevens 2014: 71). Stimuli are the environmental conditions that concern the behaviour while response the observable behaviour that people develop to the specific condition or factors. The behaviourist perspective presents two major processes when humans gain knowledge from their environment, classical conditioning and operant conditioning (Bechtel 2013: 94). A Russian psychologist Ivan Pavlov divulged in classical conditioning by looking into natural reflexes and stimuli (Chi 2014: 99). In his studies, he conditioned dogs to salivate whenever they hear the sound of a bell by constantly creating an association between the bell and the dogs’ food. Principles of classical conditioning have been used in several therapies including aversion therapy and systematic desensitisation of phobias. B.F. Skinner investigated operant conditioning, and he presented that human behaviour can be involuntary or voluntary and are sometimes driven by motive (Hoffman 2014: 89). People thus behave in the manners they do for specific reasons and the main techniques that shape behaviour include punishment, positive reinforcement, and negative reinforcement. Behaviourism denounces the perception that human beings have the power to exercise free will and holds that the environment within which an individual exists shapes all their behaviour. It thus advocates stimuli – response scenario.

Nonetheless, the behaviourist approach has received substantial criticism. Critics have suggested that the approach underestimates the potential of humans and the complexity of human behaviour. In essence, the perspective focuses excessively on the nature-nurture side neglecting biological and cognitive elements that have been evinced to impact behaviour (Bobrow 2014: 107). The approach additionally fails to explain the nature and speed at which human beings can pick up language aside from animals, which can hardly relate to certain complexities in humans. Nonetheless, the approach has been successfully applied in curing phobias and in systematic desensitisation. 

The other approach that psychology offers is the psychodynamic perspective. The psychodynamic approach to psychology champions a coherent analysis of psychological powers that are rudimentary to human behaviour, emotions, and feelings and how they correlate to childhood experiences (Gentner and Stevens 2014: 79). Sigmund Freud developed a psychodynamic approach to studying human behaviour, and its expressions are commonly used in the contemporary society including subconscious, repression, denial and anal personality amongst others (Otero and Graesser 2014: 113). The theory presents that the events that take place during the childhood stage of human development have a significant effect on their behaviour throughout to adulthood. In this regard, human beings have a little ability of free will at making life choices, but rather childhood experiences and the unconscious mind play a large part in human behaviour. In explaining his perspective, Freud suggested that the mind of a human being is like an iceberg in that only a small fraction of it is visible representing human behaviour that is observable to the eye, with the unconscious mind represented by the submerged larger part of the ice. The unconscious part thus has the greatest effect on human behaviour but does so without the individual being aware, just like the large portion of the iceberg that is not perceivable by the human eye. Freud proposed three methods by which the unconscious mind is accessible including slips of the tongue, association and dream analysis.  The unconscious mind has three constituents; the ‘’id’, the ‘ego’ and the “Super-ego.”  

The ‘id’ has instincts ‘Eros’ and ‘Thanatos’; Eros being the life instinct of sex and self-preservation, and Thanatos the death instinct responsible for aggression channelled at other individuals (Glaser 2013: 101). The ‘superego’ and ‘id’ are in continuous dispute, and ‘ego’ attempts to solve the conflict, and when a solution is not attained then, humans incline to employ defence mechanisms in anxiety reduction. Psychoanalysis is thus useful in assisting sick persons to resolve their internal conflicts. Psychoanalysis, a theory of psychosexual growth displays how childhood experiences determine adulthood personality (Chi 2014: 60). It highlights the relevance of stimulation of various body parts as a youth personal adjusts through key stages of development since too little or excessive stimulation can have negative repercussions later. The stage with the greatest effect is the phallic stage when the libido focuses on a young individual’s genitals (Bobrow 2014: 77). Girls, for instance, undergo the “Electra complex” and little boys “Oedipus complex” that help the children to align with parents of the same, enabling them to learn the appropriate code of conduct and behaviour. 

Nonetheless, the psychodynamic approach has received criticism for its overemphasis on the role of sexuality in the development and shaping of human behaviour (Bechtel 2013: 47). It has also been criticised for underemphasising the role played by social relationships in the development of human behaviour. The psychodynamic approach has nevertheless inspired contemporary theorists concerned with understanding cognition in their work and has immensely contributed to psychology and cognitive science.

Psychology also proposes humanism. Humanistic psychology is a viewpoint that accentuates the review of a person as a whole, also known as holism (Bechtel 2013: 84). Thus, this approach is not dependent on an observer’s eye to explain human behaviour but in the eye of the perpetrator of the behaviour. In this regard, approach advocates that human being has an intimate connection with their self-image and their reserved inner feelings and this connection resonates with their behaviour. Through this perspective, human beings thus have uniquely varying personalities and the power of free will to make change unto their lives anytime they see fit or resolve to (Hoffman 2014: 63). It champions that people have the responsibility of shaping their beings as humans and their subsequent happiness. Human is hence creatures with inborn capabilities of self-actualisation and realises their greatest potentials.

Humanism has its strengths and limitations nonetheless. For strengths, it perceives humans as a whole, and it is optimistic (Bobrow 2014: 23). The approach also champions for personal responsibility since it advocates that individual have the ability and the role of shaping their lives as they desire, it champions free will. This approach is, however, more of a humanist approach to scientific. It employs excess positivity about human behaviour through it freewill while choice is limited to certain individuals (Varela, Thompson and Rosch 2017: 75). Additionally, its lack empirical support and is hard to falsify. This approach thus highlights the importance of cognitive science as it presents the need of science to provide universally acceptable theories of human behaviour and analogies of the human mind.

The other approach offered by psychology towards cognitive science is cognitive psychology. It primarily deals with the manner in which human beings process information. Cognitive psychology can be defined as the scientific study of the mental function and the mind, encompassing learning, attention, memory, reasoning, perception, conceptual development, language and decision-making (Gentner and Stevens 2014: 106). The contemporary perception of cognitive psychology is that the manner in which the brain functions is understandable as a complex computing system. The primary foundation of this approach to understanding the human mind and cognition is that to understand what makes people behave and reason the way they do, then it is necessary to determine the processes that take place in their minds (Hoffman 2014: 111). In this regard, the concerns of cognitive psychology are the mental functions of human beings such as attention, perception, and memory amongst others. It thus perceives people as being homogeneous to human beings in their methodologies of processing information. The similarity is in the input-process-output flow, for instance, both computers and human beings can process information, store the data and a well-structured input and output mechanism. In this regard, psychologists have provided explanations about human memory that it has three stages. The First stage being the encoding stage where information is received by the brain and subsequently orchestrated, the storage stage where the tended information is stored and the retrieval stage where the processed information is recalled and used for whatever purpose fit.

Cognitive psychology is a scientific approach towards an explanation of human behaviour and has a wide range of applications including eyewitness testimony and cognitive therapy (Varela, Thompson and Rosch 2017: 55). The cognitive psychology is also largely experimental and thus quite scientific. However, cognitive psychology is limiting in that it refers to cognitive approaches that are not directly observable. It also lacks ecological validity and overly simplifies the behaviour of human beings. This approach nonetheless contributes immensely towards an understanding of cognition and cognition science. It helps people to appreciate the importance of cognitive science and to have ideas on the process that lead to human actions, thought outcomes and behaviour.

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Psychology is the scientific study of behaviour, mind, and thought. Cognitive science, on the other hand, is the scientific and interdisciplinary scrutiny of the human mind and that of its processes. Psychology is thus a discipline of cognitive science and dealing with human mind and behaviour since human mind and behaviour correlate. Psychology thus contributes several approaches that help understand the functionality of the human mind and resultant behaviour. These approaches include amongst others behaviourist, psychodynamic, cognitive psychology, and humanist perspectives. Behaviourist perspective presents that human beings are subjects of their individual environments and hence their various environments shape behaviour and mind patterns. The mind thus functions by responding to stimuli presented by the environment. Psychodynamic approach champions a coherent analysis of psychological powers that are rudimentary to human behaviour, emotions, and feelings and how they correlate to early experiences. Human mind and behaviour thus take a pattern that is determined by childhood occurrences. Humanism advocates that human beings are whole beings thus have uniquely varying personalities and the power of free will to make change unto their lives anytime they see fit or resolve. Though rather humanitarian than scientific, it highlights the role of cognitive science; helps people appreciate scientific explanations for cognition. Cognitive psychology primarily deals with the manner in which human beings process information; it proposes a computer-like input-process-output model. Other psychological approaches that can aid understanding of the fundamentals of cognitive science include evolutionary psychology and biological psychology.

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