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Concepts in Cognitive Psychology

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Psychology
Wordcount: 3412 words Published: 17th Apr 2018

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Memory, Thinking, Attention, Perception, Language

Cognitive psychology is primarily interested in the role of the mind and its conceptual functioning. As by way of communicating information to and from each other and understanding the external world through the process of labelling and categorising certain elements pertaining to that world, the cognitive approach to psychological investigation has been interested in the nature of language from its origins. Such conceptual structures as memory , thinking, attention, perception and language have been put into place informing much research relating to this school of psychology (Sternberg, 2006). The concepts associated with memory, thinking, attention, perception and language are prominent within the school of cognitive psychology are inter related across a multitudes of experiments. Memory can be seen as having a basis in the retrieval, store and recall of information and is commonly divided into the working memory model (or short term memory) and long term memory (or long term store). Thinking is often associated with the way in which a process of logic is undergone by any subject. Attention is the mental ability to focus and apply thinking and memory, usually characterised in experiments as the. Perception is the way in which the individual may perceive any task and language is the underlying source of communicable information that externalises the subject of any culture.

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Research into the functioning and processes of semantic memory suggested a key model that was a primary source in the formation of the memory system. This was called the working memory. This model of the working memory, which is a system and procedure whereby information is internalised and subsequently turned into stored long term memory, was believed to be more than just a simple function involving storage and retrieval. At its procedural stage, we can see from the concept of the short term memory model that the process is broken into a schematic procedure in which stimuli, such as words, signs or symbols are encoded and stored within the memory. At this point it is believed to be rehearsed in the mind before being either rejected through forgetting or being accepted into the long term store, probably due to the perception of its significance (Waugh & Norman, 1965). Due to its limited capacity, the working memory is believed to incorporate this forgetting procedure due to the effects of either decay (unrehearsed code) or displacement (rejection due to irrelevance) of the encoded stimuli (Bjork, 1970). However, although many studies have indeed indicated that this model is accurate in terms of the basic procedure of memory, it can not be considered as fully accounting for other important phenomena as the effects of rehearsal are not always found to be defining (Craik & Watkins, 1973). For instance, primacy and recency effects that are found in many free recall tests are suggested as being due to the length of rehearsal time spent on the initial words presented to individuals, whilst also finding that fewer words present to displace the more likely the encoding of the latter words presented (Murdoch, 1972). In terms of memory, this research into the phenomenon of primacy and recency effects indicated that slow presentation of words would increase primacy performance, but would have no effect on recency performance (Murdoch, 1972). This indicated that the more time permitted to information rehearsal, the stronger the likelihood would be for that information to enter the long term store, whilst contrastingly, the faster that the information was presented to the individual the more likely it was for that individual to forget. What this research suggests is that the working memory model requires an engagement with a target stimuli rather than just mere exposure alone, which suggests a strong relationship with the perception of language and the nature of thought processes (Nickerson & Adams, 1979). Further study on the effects of primacy and recency with relation to language indicated that individuals required subjects to identify early and late acquired nouns presented in noise (Young & Ellis, 1980). Subsequent findings from these studies indicated that early acquisition of words were recognized more accurately than words acquired at a more recent stage of language acquisition, when the words were matched on frequency, image-ability, concreteness, familiarity and letter length. However, they did not examine the full effect of frequency and the identification of words matched onto age of acquisition or other factors. Subsequently, further research suggested that high frequency words were more intelligible when heard in white noise than words of lower frequency, using lists uncontrolled for age of acquisition (Broadbent, 1971). Essentially, this meant that language and attention were fundamental factors in determining the process of memory. Another important phenomenon regarding the role of language and attention within memory is chunking. This phenomenon indicates the role that thinking plays, in particular the encoding of language meaning. This is the phenomena in which the individual categorises an array of information and configures it as one chunk. For instance, the numbers one, nine, four and five could be stored as one whole chunk as opposed to four individual units when rehearsed under one set of information known as nineteen forty five; a key cultural date. What we can see in this phenomenon is the construct of perception. Essentially, because no significance is placed upon the individual’s prior knowledge or their difference in experience, we can see that the memory model can not account for chunking alone. For example, the chunking of one, nine, four and five would more likely be stored if this chunk correlated with a significant date or number already maintained in the individuals learned experience, such as a soldier who saw the end of the Second World War (Ericsson et al, 1980). Therefore, seeing memory as language alone does not take into account the reality that prior meaning vastly reduces the significance of time taking in memory, as rehearsal is reduced due to recognition of former learned categories in relation to semantic structures held in the mental lexicon. This would suggest that prior learning, familiarity, chunking, categorisation as well as rehearsal can determine the success of word recognition of different lexical constructs. Subsequently, Baddeley suggested a notion of limitation within the working memory, which indicated that encoding stimuli (or information) and storing memory was a system of varying depths of processing (Baddeley, 1992).

Situating all five factors as one inter related mechanism we can see then a notion of a mental lexicon from which all language can be understood, constructed, learned and articulated via communication and understanding (Aitchison, 2003). Subsequent inquiry into such a word store has created an appreciation of certain phenomena relating to how individuals understand and articulate language. This has become a very useful resource for research into anything involving the nature of language within the cognitive realm. One such piece of research was conducted by Collins and Quillian, who constructed a model of semantic memory storage and retrieval that was imperative to language. This was called the hierarchy of semantic memory (Collins & Quillian, 1969). We can see from this model how memory and language inter relate. In their model, it was suggested that individuals would store memory in sets and would retrieve knowledge judgements according to the familiarity of a certain concept and its association to certain definers regarding any particular concept. In further studies, it was established that semantic distance was based upon the strength of the perceived relationship between one concept and its hierarchal group (Rosch, 1973). Essentially, knowledge was seen as being stored in the structure of a mental lexicon and concepts were recognised and categorised due to the specific and relevant qualities and properties that it accorded to in the mental lexical structure (Conrad, 1972). This conceptual notion forms the basis for perception as information is seen as belonging to certain defining features held by the knowledge of the individual. The assumption was that the farther you moved up this hierarchy of conceptual information, the more the defining features would decrease (Loftus, 1973). For instance, a Robin would be more strongly accorded to the hierarchy of birds than a flightless bird, such as a chicken, as the defining variable of flight was recognised (Rips et al, 1974). It was believed that if something were to disturb this hierarchal structure of word storage, then incorrect recall would become present (Loftus, 1973). Subsequently, this suggests that cognition is governed by perception as well as memory and word meaning. Essentially, the conceptual construction of this mental lexicon gives us good indication as to how words are conceptualised, understood and recognised by the individual. This avenue of research requires the investigation into thinking and learning in relation to perception.

The role of perception with relation to thinking formed the interest of the seminal cognitive psychologist Bruner, whose studies investigated the nature of learning. He famously devised a test to measure and explore the nature in which people constructed and comprehended meaning. Bruner’s findings suggested that there was an intelligent procedure in operation during learning that performed by way of a hypothesis testing. This form of logical thinking was indicated as being understood through stages of either acceptance or rejection of similarities and categories based upon an intelligent process of trial testing (Bruner et al, 1956). Bruner gave a sample of individuals various sets of pictures, each portraying a variety of different and similar shapes. The different categories of shapes were considered as the conditions of the experiment. Some of the pictures in the conditions shared the same number of shapes; some of them shared the same colour of shapes while others shared the same number of borders surrounding the shapes. However, in each condition the shapes were marginally different; none were identical. From the findings of these studies, Bruner was able to discern that there were two forms of learning that could be identified. These were dubbed successive and conservative scanning (Bruner et al, 1956). Successive scanning was deemed the type of learning that used a thinking process that involved trail testing that attempted one hypothesis at a time before either accepting or rejecting similarities. However, conservative scanning was believed to indicate a deeper form thinking that categorised certain classes of type before carrying out the acceptance or rejecting of any hypotheses. It was concluded that the latter thought process was a much faster and more efficient process than the former. What is crucial here is that these thought processes have little to do with language or memorised knowledge. However, not everyone within the field of the cognitive psychology accepts this notion of thinking. Many researchers and theorists related to the field of thinking and perception have argued that categories are an innate knowledge rather than a learned one and so the use of language and memory are not essential to thinking (Fodor & Chomsky, 1980). The main implication in this idea is that empirical category learning may not be done with the rejection of hypothesis but with the rejection of the externally governed conceptualisation of the external world.

Studies relating to word recall have highlighted the role of attention in the role of psychological research. In one such piece of research the ability to read words was indicated by letter identification and visual configurations (McClelland & Johnson, 1977). Other research has indicated the use of non literal cues in the recognition of word (Marchbanks & Levin, 1965). In either case, we can see that an attentional basis for word recognition. More contemporary research into the relationship between word recognition and the effects that peer groups had within the educational learning structure indicated that there was a significance of both memory and the symbolic structure of the mental lexicon within the recognition of words that could be applied to the acquisition of knowledge (Fuchs & Fuchs, 2005). It would seem that from the results involving lexical decision tasks that the more a child is familiar with the semantic construct of words the more likely they are in recognising the words without error or side effects. Particular attention has focused upon the possibility that the numerous amounts of previously reported effects of word frequency in attentional tasks might actually result from confounded effects of the age of acquisition as the two variables are related. Subsequently, high frequency words tend to be learned earlier in life than low frequency words, so that sets of words selected as being of high or low frequency of occurrence tend also to be sets of words which are acquired early on or more recently. There has been evidence put forward suggesting that the age at which a word is acquired during a child’s development affects performance throughout life. Essentially, the earlier that the process of word acquisition is incorporated the more successful it will be in producing meaning. It would seem that the later the words are acquired, even when attentional factors such as frequency of usage and word image-ability are controlled, the poorer the memory and articulation will be (Brown and Watson, 1987).

The effects of frequency can be understood in the interaction activation model of McClelland and Rumelhart (1981). This suggested that there is a node for each familiar word in this connectionist stimulation of word recognition. Each node was believed to have an activation level which varied from cycle to cycle and a resting level which is determined by the node’s level of activation over a long period of time. The node for a high frequency word was believed to be constantly activated. This was effective by having a higher resting level than the node for a low frequency word, which rarely received this activation. Studies have revealed that the age of acquisition is known to affect object naming speed, yet not the speed with which pictures of objects can be classified into semantic categories in the mental lexicon (Morrison & Ellis, 1992). The naming of words was then followed by a delayed cue which has also been established as being unaffected by the age of acquisition (Morrison & Ellis, 1995). This strongly indicates that the effect of language does not accord to the process of articulation, but to a process of deductive reasoning. However, research by Brown and Watson (1987) has suggested that the phonological output representations of early acquired words are more complete than those for later acquired words and can be accessed more easily.

We can see from our analysis of the five key components regarding cognitive psychology and the way in which they inter-relate with one another philosophically and practically that they apply to the psychology of everyday life. Whether it is the perception of birds, the recognition of a word or concept, the thought process that delivers a solution to a problem or simply the recall of a particular number, such as a bank sort code or telephone number, the roles of memory, thinking, attention, perception and language are fundamental components in the psychological study of cognition. It is difficult to conceive of a world without these five components working together. Without perception we would not be able to conceive of a world or understand the processes in which we experience the external environment and inform our knowledge of it. Without language we would not be able to categorise the various constructs that we encounter in the world, exchange our experiences of them or recognise the amount of information that we do. Without memory we would not be able to retain any information or experience that we had gathered about the world or be able to determine what in our immediate experience was relevant and considered vastly significant from what was not. Without attention we would not be able to discern between the varying contexts in which we experience language and information about the environment or acquire specific knowledge and without thinking and understanding thought processes we would not be able to solve problems, reason, make decisions, extract symbolic meaning or even conceive of mental imagery or spatial awareness. These factors are then, vastly significant in the understanding of both cognitive psychology and ourselves and although distinctions between these five components is necessary for both academic knowledge and practical application, they are best seen as factors that inter-relate and are prevalent to studies and practices of cognitive psychology.


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