History of cognitive psychology

Cognitive psychology in its modern form incorporates a remarkable set of new technologies in psychological science. Although published inquiries of human cognition can be traced back to Aristotle’s ‘’De Memoria’’ (Hothersall, 1984), the intellectual origins of cognitive psychology began with cognitive approaches to psychological problems at the end of the 1800s and early 1900s in the works of Wundt, Cattell, and William James (Boring, 1950).

Cognitive psychology declined in the first half of the 20th century with the rise of “behaviorism” –- the study of laws relating observable behavior to objective, observable stimulus conditions without any recourse to internal mental processes (Watson, 1913; Boring, 1950; Skinner, 1950). It was this last requirement, fundamental to cognitive psychology, that was one of behaviorism’s undoings. For example, lack of understanding of the internal mental processes led to no distinction between memory and performance and failed to account for complex learning (Tinklepaugh, 1928; Chomsky, 1959). These issue led to the decline of behaviorism as the dominant branch of scientific psychology and to the “Cognitive Revolution”.

The Cognitive Revolution began in the mid-1950s when researchers in several fields began to develop theories of mind based on complex representations and computational procedures (Miller, 1956; Broadbent, 1958; Chomsky, 1959; Newell, Shaw, & Simon, 1958). Cognitive psychology became predominant in the 1960s (Tulving, 1962; Sperling, 1960). Its resurgence is perhaps best marked by the publication of Ulric Neisser’s book, ‘’Cognitive Psychology’’, in 1967. Since 1970, more than sixty universities in North America and Europe have established cognitive psychology programs.

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