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The Cognitive Perspective - Cognitive Psychology & Cognitive Development: Theory and Practice (Lecture)


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[No. 1 Download SSRN Ranking for Topic 'Cognitive Psychology - Other', Psychology Educator: Course, Cases & Teaching eJournal, April 2021]. This notebook presents an introductory overview, to the cognitive perspective, on the psychology of human behaviour for social science students. Starting with an introduction to cognitive developmental theories of how babies reason, the overview then moves to discuss how children develop into better thinkers. Adult theories of cognition are subsequently outlined and critically evaluated. A chronology of topics include: the rise of 'this thing we call cognition', Piaget's theory of cognitive development and its evaluation, problem space theory, and theories of mental representation in adult thought examining; amongst other types of thinking and reasoning, deduction and induction and an evaluation of mental representation theories.
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Introduction to Psychology:
Theory & Practice
The rise of cognitive psychology
What is this ‘thing’ called cognition?
Piaget’s theory of cognitive development
Mental representations and formal reasoning
Evaluation of Piaget’s theory
The rise of cognitive psychology
‘…is concerned with the internal processes involved in making sense
of the environment, and deciding what action might be appropriate’
(Eysenck & Keane, 2005, p. 1)
MIT (1956) and the attack on the behaviourist movement:
Noam Chomsky’s theory of language vs. Skinner’s ‘Verbal
Behaviour’ (1957)
George Miller’s ‘Magic number seven plus or minus two’ and
short-term memory
Newell and Simon’s General Problem Solver (discussed in Newell,
Shaw, & Simon,1958)
What is this ‘thing’ we call cognition?
Thinking and reasoning
Do you think what I think you think? (Hedden & Zhang, 2002)
First we will ask how does the ability to think and reason
We will look at children’s reasoning today to find out
The Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget
Piaget’s theory of cognitive development (1920s)
Piaget’s thinking about thinking
In the 1920s Piaget was working on intelligence testing with
Alfred Binet (who invented the first I.Q. test and children’s I.Q.
But Piaget hypothesised that children’s wrong answers may
reveal insights into how their minds worked
Hence revealing insights into how reasoning develops in homo
sapiens over time!
Piaget’s theory
The child is not a ‘tabula rasa’ (e.g., Locke)
There is an interaction between the child’s maturing abilities
and their interactions with the environment
Cognition is the active adaptation by the organism to the
Children as ‘little scientists’ (e.g., “Mommy’s face paint makes
such pretty patterns on the nice carpet…”)
Children then construct ‘theories’ or ‘schemas’ of how the
physical and social world’s operate (e.g., if I push this plate off
the table it falls down and I get Mommy’s attention)
Schemas are cognitive structures, that is, ‘mental operators’
that can be applied to objects, beliefs, ideas etc. (e.g., if I clean
my room, then I will get pocket money…)
Children make constant mental adaptations to new
observations gained from experiments
When a child encounters a novel object or event, they try to
understand it in the context of their existing knowledge and
beliefs about the world (e.g., ‘carschema).
Piaget termed this process assimilation
But what if the child sees a train and says ‘car’?
His parents will correct them and say ‘train’ and now the child
may develop a new schema to accommodate ‘trains’
Piaget termed this process accommodation
Piaget’s stage theory of cognitive
Development occurs in stages of increasing complexity of
Four stages
Stage 1: The sensorimotor stage (birth 2yrs)
Stage 2: The preoperational stage (2-7yrs)
Stage 3: The concrete operational stage (7-11yrs)
Stage 4: The formal operations stage (11yrs onwards)
Stage 1: The sensorimotor stage (birth- 2yrs)
Discovery through sensory inputs such as sucking, grasping,
orientation to sound and eye movements (e.g., what happens when
they push their plate over the edge of the table…
The concept of self as separate from the world emerges
For example, Object Permanence (e.g., Peek-a-boo!)
The awareness that an object continues to exist even when it is not
present to the senses
Out of sight, out of mind
A ball hidden behind a screen | Baby sights ball beforehand
The screen is pushed and it does not land flat on the floor and baby is
surprised or not surprised…
Object permanence
Screen 18-month old baby
Stage 2: The preoperational stage (2-7yrs)
The child does not yet comprehend certain rules or operations, for example
physical laws in the world.
Experiment in Conservation
The understanding that any quantity remains the same despite physical
changes in the arrangements of objects
Experimenter shows the child two long thin beakers with equal amounts of
Child understands liquid volume equivalence
Pours one amount into a short broad container
Asks which now has the most liquid…
But the child in the preoperational stage
Law of conservation
Q: Which container holds more liquid?
A: ‘The taller one’ (examine this response)
The liquid from the tall thin
Container B is poured into
the short broad container B
Stage 2: The preoperational stage (2-7yrs)
The child does not yet comprehend certain rules or operations, for example
physical laws in the world.
How does Piaget explain the Conservation Study results?
The pre-operational child’s thinking is determined by the perceptual nature of
Pre-operational children’s thinking is not governed by the principles of
reversibility (you can pour the liquid back into the tall thin container)
Or compensation, where the decrease in height is compensated by an
increase in breadth
Or identity, where no amount of liquid has been added or taken away
Egocentrism, (e.g., Piaget and Inhelder’s 3 mountain exp, children matched the
pictures of different views of the three mountains to what they could see, not
what the doll could see.
Stage 3: The concrete operational stage (7-
Children become able to deal with mental operations that fit a logical
system (e.g., the child can make conclusions that take the law of
conservation into account)
But the use of mental operations at this stage is not concrete
Exp Transitivity Tasks
“Mei is taller than Jane, and Jane is taller than Michelle”… “Is Mei or
Michelle taller?”
Children cannot do this task in their heads, but they can do it when they
have external objects such as dolls, or when they know the people we are
talking about…
Stage 4: Formal Operations (11yrs onwards)
Children can reason mentally without the use of external objects to solve
reasoning tasks
Children can reason from verbally stated hypotheses to draw conclusions about
the truth of logical premises
They can deduce conclusions from abstract content
If “A is taller than B, and B is taller then C”, then “A is taller than C.
Evaluation of Piaget’s theory
This theory had an enormous impact in developmental, educational and general
psychology but:
+ Piaget emphasised that children were ACTIVE assimilators of new knowledge rather than
passive receivers as traditional behaviourism would have led us to believe…
+ Piaget emphasised that children constructed new knowledge from previous knowledge,
structures which has held true for studies of expertise acquisition (e.g., Chase & Simon,
+Piaget emphasised that new reasoning abilities such as deduction depended on the mergence
of previous ones such as success on transitivity tasks (or syllogisms)
-As with any stage theory, Piaget’s theory is not flexible enough to account for children who
may skip from the preoperational to formal stage, or go back a stage in development.
- Also, the stage theory is put forward as a universal theory of cognitive development, and
different children may reach different stages at different ages depending on their abilities
and education…
-Piaget’s theory did not account for the child’s cognitive development as a process that occurs
in a socio-cultural context (e.g., Vygotsky, 1973), for example learning a highly formally
skilled task from a parent at a preoperational age.
- Not all adults and adolescents actually develop abilities associated with the formal operations
Mental representations and formal
It is important to note that Piaget’s theory was developed in line with
theories that assumed people had an internal ‘mental logic’ for reasoning
with formal logical relations such as those in transitivity tasks (e.g., Rips,
1979: Braine, 1978)
Nowadays it is generally accepted that people reason by constructing
mental representations called Mental Models (Johnson-Laird, 1983), be they
logic or probabilistic-based.
We will talk more about theories of adult reasoning tomorrow, but for now
take this point in as a contemporary criticism of the foundations of Piaget’s
theory of cognitive development.
Piaget’s theory does not account for internal mental representations that
children may be able to construct for themselves.
An Evaluation:
Adult Thinking
and Reasoning
Are adult thinkers rational?
Conscious and unconscious thought
Reasoning and rationality
Problem solving
Creativity and imagination
Are adult thinkers rational?
Introduce to class: Wason’s Rule Discovery Task (Wason, 1960)…
Lets see how good we are at reasoning
Think of a numerical rule that the number sequence 2-4-6 conforms
Now generate your own sequences with sets of three numbers
Call them out….
The rule is actually ‘ascending numbers’…
Confirmation bias (Wason, 1960)
“ likely explanation for the perpetuation of myths is the fact that
stereotypes are such powerful things”
An ancient truth is worth restating here: if a generalisation about a
group of people is believed, whenever a member of the group behaves
in the expected way, the observer notes it and his belief is confirmed
and strengthened…”
when a member of the group behaves in a way that is not consistent
with the observers expectations, the instance is likely to pass
unnoticed…’ (Maccoby & Jacklin, 1974; p.365)
The role of falsification in hypothesis
To overcome untrue hypotheses (Popper, 1959)
Introduce Poppers Black Swan example…
People find falsification impossible (Poletiek, 1996; 2001)
People find falsification of their own hypotheses possible when they have a
large repository of domain expertise (Cowley & Byrne, 2004; Cowley, 2017);
When they test someone else’s hypothesis (Cowley & Byrne, 2005; Cowley,
And find negative testing of their own hypothesis possible, but implausible,
when they compete with an opponent hypothesis tester (Cowley, 2017)
Stereotypes and irrationality
consider the example provided by Anne Frank in her famous diary:
“…Jews are regarded as lesser beings. Oh, it’s sad, very sad that the old adage has
been confirmed for the umpteenth time: ‘What one Christian does is his own
responsibility, what one Jew does reflects on all Jews’.(22nd May, 1944, p. 302)
Anne Frank logically proves that this belief is false. One falsifying case can prove that
this prejudiced belief is false.
The standard version of the 2-4-6 task, when the participant’s hypothesis is
embedded within the true rule, is analogically equivalent to this prejudiced belief
(Wason, 1960).
Heuristics and biases
A heuristic is a quick process by which a rule of thumb is applied to a
situation in order to reach a conclusion
Availability heuristic (Tversky, Slovic and Kahneman, 1982): the
probability is judged by the ease with which familiar instances can be
brought to mind (e.g., stereotyping)
Representative heuristic (Tversky, Slovic and Kahneman, 1982): the
degree to which something is representative of something else (e.g.,
Josh the librarian)
Hindsight bias (Sanna et al., 1999): the tendency to overestimate one’s
ability to have predicted an event once the outcome is known ‘I knew it
all along…’
Contemporary theories of deductive
Dual-system theories (e.g., Evans, 2003)
Implicit (Unconscious) and
Explicit (Conscious) processes
Working memory constraints (e.g., Baddeley, 1986; 1997)
Mental Models (e.g., Johnson-Laird, 1999)
The principle of truth
Alternatives and counterexample search
Working memory constraints (e.g., Baddeley, 1986; 1997)
The structure and nature of these processes are nowadays argued to be
probabilistic rather than rigid and constrained by any logical framework one way or
(*Chater, N. and Felin, T. and Funder, D.C. and Gigerenzer, G. and Koenderink, J.J.
and Krueger, J.I. and Noble, D. and Nordli, S.A. and Oaksford, Michael and
Schwartz, B. and Stanovich, K.E. and Todd, P.M. (2018) Mind, rationality, and
cognition: an interdisciplinary debate. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 25 (2), pp.
Unconscious and conscious thought
Unconscious thought refers to thinking that we are not aware of; it is
implicit and non deliberate and may be carried out without much effort…
Unconscious thought is often referred to as subconscious processing
which allows us to perform more than one task simultaneously (e.g.,
driving a car)
Conscious thought refers to thinking that we are aware of; it is explicit
and deliberate and carried out in a concerted effort and includes:
Problem solving
Deductive reasoning and Inductive reasoning
Hypothetical thinking
Creative and imaginative thought
The building blocks of thought:
‘Mental Representations’
Concepts: are the building blocks of thought; a mental category that groups
objects, relations, activities and abstractions and can be hierarchically structured
(e.g., Gucci; Dolci & Gabana and Prada are designer brands)
Prototypes: an especially representative example of a concept by which to
compare a new object for categorisation (e.g., Labrador vs. Shiatsu)
Propositions: units of meaning that are made up of many concepts and express a
single idea (e.g., dogs are clever)
Schemas: a complex representation of all we know about a concept such as being
a student…
Templates: a set of abstract schemas that is a general representation rather than
very specific (e.g., what a researcher knows about how to write a research report)
Mental Model: each model represents a possibility, that is, a possible state-of-
affairs in the world.
Deductive reasoning
Deduction: reasoning from the general to the specific (Manktelow, 1999; 2012)
Premise: If there is maple syrup, then Michelle will eat the pancakes
Premise: There is no maple syrup
Conclusion: What can you conclude? Michelle will not eat the pancakes
Modus Tollens (Propositional logic)
Problem: two premises can be true yet conclusion can be false (e.g. all Professors
are rich, Jim is a Professor, therefore Jim is rich, but gambling problem…)
Inductive reasoning
Induction: Reasoning from the specific to the general
Michelle loves pancakes, I bet she loves pastries….
Problem: Often we must go beyond the information given, but we
cannot prove it is ever true
Michelle doesn’t like pastries…
(e.g., falsification and the prejudiced stereotyping example earlier)
Problem Solving
Insight problem solving.
The solution may often
just ‘pop’ into one’s head
(unconscious processing)
1) Elaboration
2) Constraint relaxation
3) Re-encoding or
(Ohlsson, 1992)
Example: Nine-dot problem
Problem Space Theory
(Newell & Simon, 1972)
Requires search through a problem space of alternative possible moves (e.g.,
conscious processing)
Tower of Hanoi (Anzai & Simon, 1979)
Chess (Newell & Simon, 1972)
Physics (Chi, Glaser, & Rees, 1981)
A number of operators (e.g., the bishop moves diagonally)
Sub-goals and ultimate goals (e.g., to win an opponent piece or to checkmate)
Choice of move is related largely to previous experience and expertise (e.g.,
Chase & Simon, 1973; Gobet, 1998)
Creativity and imagination:
Structured or unstructured?
Experiment: Participants were given a blank piece of paper on which
they were to draw imaginary animals. They were first asked to imagine
going to another planet somewhere else in the galaxy that was very
different from earth, to imagine finding an animal there, and to draw a front
and side view of the animal…another same species… different species… etc
What they tended to draw: Animals with bilateral symmetry, appendages, sense
organs… etc
Ward, T. (1994). Structured Imagination:
The Role of Category Structure in
Exemplar Generation. Cognitive Psychology, 27, 1-40
Evaluation of adult thinking
and reasoning
People may be rational in principle but err in practice (Johnson-Laird, 1999)
People may have two systems for reasoning: an implicit system for quick
heuristics and may be prone to biased conclusions, and a slower explicit
system for working out the details in order to come to conclusions (e.g.,
Evans, 1989)
The building blocks of thinking are economic structures (they do not preserve
exact images or details rather they comprise of general concept, schemas and
People tend to rely on old prototypes to create new ones…
People are rational when they have mastered a large repository of domain
specific knowledge…
Are people rational or irrational more generally? Or are they economic (e.g.,
Simon, 1957; Gigerenzer, 1999)
Select References
Cowley, M. (2017). Hypothesis Testing: How We Foresee Falsification in Competitive Games.
Saarbrucken, Germany: Lambert Academic Publishing
Cowley-Cunningham, M. (2018). Children & the Law: Courtroom Research Basics for Busy
Practitioners (Booklet Presentation Slides). Law & Society: Courts eJournal, vol. 12, Issue 36: 25
May, 2018. Law & Society SSRN eJournal Series sponsored by the Maurer School of Law, Indiana
Cowley, M., & Byrne, R. M. J. (2005). When falsification is the only path to truth. In B. G. Bara. L.
Barsalou, & M. Bucciarelli (Eds.). Proceedings of the Twenty-Seventh Annual Conference of the
Cognitive Science Society, 512-517. Mahweh, NJ: Erlbaum. Stresa, Italy.
Cowley, M., & Byrne, R. M. J. (2004). Chess Masters’ Hypothesis Testing. In K. D. Forbus, D. Gentner, &
T. Rogers (Eds.). Proceedings of the Twenty- Sixth Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society.
pp. 250- 255. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum. Chicago, USA.
Johnson-Laird, P. N. (2006). How We Reason. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Full-text available
The research literature on children's testimony in the courtroom, and the factors that either help or hinder consistent and accurate accounts, is a vast one. This short booklet, aimed at busy child services professionals, takes a look at landmark findings on the subject of children's disclosure of abuse and procedural factors that affect their testimony. The research findings, from the psychology of law literature, are detailed for the reader in a light and accessible way. The booklet attends to key behavioural research findings on the following: 1. Case in point: Telling in abuse cases 2. Disclosing abuse: Some findings about why children tell and why they remain silent 3. Non-disclosure and disclosure delay 4. Disclosing abuse: A model of children’s disclosure 5. Factors associated with delay of disclosure (Goodman-Browne et al. 2003) 6. Age and gender: Some criticisms 7. Intrafamilial v. extrafamilial abuse 8. Fear of negative consequences 9. Perceptions of responsibility 10. Testimonial procedures and the reluctance to come forward 11. Improving child witnesses’ memory and minimising the reluctance to testify 12. Testifying via CCTV 13. The presence of a support person Finally, the booklet ends with a critical evaluation of the topic, and tags notes of reference for further supplementary reading. Keywords: Children's Testimony, Disclosure of Abuse, Behavioural Research, Practitioner Focused
Full-text available
This article features an interdisciplinary debate and dialogue about the nature of mind, perception, and rationality. Scholars from a range of disciplines — cognitive science, applied and experimental psychology, behavioral economics, and biology — offer critiques and commentaries of a target article by Felin, Koenderink, and Krueger (2017): “Rationality, Perception, and the All-Seeing Eye,” Psychonomic Bulletin & Review. The commentaries raise a number of criticisms and issues concerning rationality and the all-seeing-eye argument, including the nature of judgment and reasoning, biases versus heuristics, organism–environment relations, perception and situational construal, equilibrium analysis in economics, efficient markets, and the nature of empirical observation and the scientific method. The debated topics have far-reaching consequences for the rationality literature specifically, as well as for the cognitive, psychological, and economic sciences more broadly. The commentaries are followed by a response from the authors of the target article. Their response is organized around three central issues: (1) the problem of cues; (2) what is the question?; and (3) equilibria, $500 bills, and the axioms of rationality.
When falsification is the only path to truth
  • M Cowley
  • R M J Byrne
Cowley, M., & Byrne, R. M. J. (2005). When falsification is the only path to truth. In B. G. Bara. L. Barsalou, & M. Bucciarelli (Eds.). Proceedings of the Twenty-Seventh Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society, 512-517. Mahweh, NJ: Erlbaum. Stresa, Italy.
Chess Masters' Hypothesis Testing
  • M Cowley
  • R M J Byrne
Cowley, M., & Byrne, R. M. J. (2004). Chess Masters' Hypothesis Testing. In K. D. Forbus, D. Gentner, & T. Rogers (Eds.). Proceedings of the Twenty-Sixth Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society. pp. 250-255. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum. Chicago, USA. -Johnson-Laird, P. N. (2006). How We Reason. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Hypothesis Testing: How We Foresee Falsification in Competitive Games
  • M Cowley
Cowley, M. (2017). Hypothesis Testing: How We Foresee Falsification in Competitive Games. Saarbrucken, Germany: Lambert Academic Publishing -Cowley-Cunningham, M. (2018). Children & the Law: Courtroom Research Basics for Busy Practitioners (Booklet -Presentation Slides). Law & Society: Courts eJournal, vol. 12, Issue 36: 25
Law & Society SSRN eJournal Series sponsored by the Maurer School of Law
  • May
May, 2018. Law & Society SSRN eJournal Series sponsored by the Maurer School of Law, Indiana University.