Source: Piaget, Creative Commons http://bit.ly/TrAj9n
Today we're going to be talking about another important theory in the history of psychology, and that's the cognitive theory of psychology. Cognitive was first used as a term in 1967, by Ulrich Neisser, who noted that there were certain mental states that occurred, even in the absence of any kind of outside stimulation. So these were things that were happening, not response to anything, but on their own. This is a theory that is on the opposite side of behaviorism, which says that we need to study those things that are outside of the body. The external behaviours. Neisser, and all of his predecessors, noted that instead, what's important to study is the internal mental processes. The things that were happening inside of the mind. These are things like how we perceive, we remember, we think, and we speak.
In this theory, it's also important to remember the person themselves, and their different points of view. Because that can influence the sorts of things that occurring within the mind. As opposed to behaviorism, where the things that are happening outside the body cause a specific kind of reaction.
An example of this is attention. The way that we pay attention to different things outside of our bodies, can influence the kinds of things that we remember. So for example, I notice something that's very brightly colored. I'm more likely to remember that, whereas somebody who didn't notice that would remember other things from the environment.
An important figure to remember in cognitive theory is Jean Piaget. Piaget helped to develop a lot of theories about how cognition develops, particularly in children. He's a Swiss scientist from the 1920s, and he used a lot of different sorts of intelligence tests and interviews to collect these data about his different subjects, and he used them to form his specific theories.
One of his important contributions to cognitive theory, was to talk about how individuals construct knowledge that they acquire through their experiences. They don't passively take it in. They put it together, and make sense and meaning out of it. What they do is, they take those experiences, and they put them into specific categories, which Piaget referred to as schema. And these schema-- when they take in this new knowledge-- can either be assimilated, where they can assimilate the knowledge, they can put it into a specific category, and group it together, or they can be accommodated for. Which is to say that the schema can be changed, augmented, or even new schema can be created to fit these experiences into those ideas.
Another important theory that Piaget developed was his theory of cognitive development. This is something that we will definitely go over in more detail later. But the basic idea is that children go through four general stages of mental growth, where they develop different abilities to understand the world around them.
And one last part of cognitive theory that we want to mention is the theory of cognitive behaviors. Essentially, what this theory does is, it takes the best of both worlds, and puts them together to create a whole picture of the individual. So you're able to take the outside sort of behaviors, and the influences that the environment can have on the individual, as well as the mental states, and how that can influence behavior, as well.
Let me give you an example. Let's say you're at work, and you see that there's candy sitting on the desk. Because of the behaviorism side of it, you're more apt to take the candy because it's pleasurable. You take it, and you eat it. And if you were to see it over time, you would continue to reinforce that behavior. You would take the candy, and you would eat it, even if it wasn't yours.
On the cognition side of it, because it's occurring over time, multiple times, you're also coming to anticipate it, to expect it in some way, as well. And so that influences your behavior, because of that mental state.
This theory is important because it has helped to develop a lot of different sorts of treatments for mental disorders, like depression. In depression, you've got both sides of the story occurring. You've got the negative behaviors that are reinforcing your actions, as well as the negative sort of mindsets. So both of those things occur to make it more likely for a depressed person to stay depressed. And so in a lot of cognitive-behavioral theories, you need to address both problems to address the overall disorder.