The Cognitive Perspective
Cognitive psychology, as mentioned before, focuses on studying the mental processes. In other words, it studies how people think, reason, solve problems, understand language, remember, form beliefs, etc. — all that good stuff that goes on inside your head. The cognitive processes (such as thinking, reasoning, remembering, etc.) are what allow you to understand your environment and how the environment affects you and in turn how you affect the environment.
You've learned how you learn, remember what you've learned, and where that information is stored. Now, let's look at how you use that information in your mind to interpret and understand the world around you. Think of the world as a mystery you are constantly trying to solve.
Your mind, in turn, is a mystery cognitive psychologists are constantly trying to solve. As you can imagine, studying thoughts isn't an easy thing to do. Unlike observable behaviors, thoughts are not something you can examine and measure directly. Even if you were to split open someone's head and examine the brain, you still wouldn't be able to study his or her thoughts.
One of the first ways researchers tried to study thought was through introspection, in which participants wrote down ideas, images, and feelings as they experienced them. However, this method was far too subjective. How could psychologists possibly know if people's descriptions of their inner thoughts were accurate? Plus, people are too complicated and do not all have the same thoughts and ideas; therefore, introspection did not last long as a cognitive research tool.
Researchers, therefore, have built models that are used to explain the inner workings of the mind, the most popular being the information-processing model. This model is a hypothetical representation, somewhat analogous to a computer, in which the thought process can be broken down into components, or units of knowledge, that work together as though along an assembly line to process information.
The Big Picture
In a moment, you'll learn about those units of knowledge that work together to create thought, but first, let's take a look at the big picture. First of all, an impression enters your brain through your senses. For instance, let's say you are watching a cooking show on television and a chocolate dessert catches your eye. The brain then manipulates the impression to give it meaning and make sense of it. You love chocolate and the dessert looks scrumptious and certainly like something you would enjoy eating. Next your brain runs through possible responses. You try to recall if you have all the ingredients needed and try to figure out how the cook is making the dessert. Finally, you carry out a response and analyze the results. You go to the kitchen, pull out the ingredients, and try to make the dessert. While this may sound simple enough, the brain is processing several bits of information that must work in conjunction to reach this thought process. Now, let's take a look at those units of knowledge.