Cognitive Psychologist Career Information, Jobs, Degrees & Training Programs

Cognitive psychologists specialize in the mental functions linked to learning, memory retention, decision-making, reasoning, information processing, sensory perception, and human cognition. Academic disciplines related to cognitive psychology include linguistics, philosophy, and neuroscience.

Cognitive psychologists involved in research seek to develop strategies to enhance memory retention, improve learning, and increase the ability to process information.

The use of cognitive therapies is a relatively new phenomenon. Before the 1970's, psychological theories and practices were dominated by behaviorism. Once behaviorism began to diminish in importance, more psychologists began to focus on such concepts as problem solving, memory retention, and learning. They also utilized cognitive research methods and processing models to conduct their research. Today, more researchers are taking into account genetic and evolutionary factors while conducting their research.

The following are in-depth explanations of the main focuses of cognitive psychologists:
  • Perception: Psychologists specializing in perception attempt to understand factors influencing human interpretation.
  • Attention: Psychologists attempting to better understand attention evaluate the factors that humans tend to respond to in their environments.
  • Learning: Cognitive psychologists specialize in human learning. They frequently work with patients who struggle to learn and process new information.
  • Memory: Cognitive psychologists specializing in memory attempt to better understand the factors influencing memory retention.
  • Concept Formation: Concept formation is the process of how humans categorize and organize information.
  • Judgment and decision: Cognitive psychologists typically attempt to understand the biological and social factors that affect decision-making and judgment.
  • Reasoning: Whenever humans evaluate arguments, consequences, or logic, they're reasoning. Cognitive psychologists focus on factors that affect reasoning.
  • Problem Solving: Problem solving is the process where humans attempt to alter behavior and set goals.
  • Language Processing: Cognitive psychologists specialize in language development, comprehension, and processing.
The following are typical responsibilities of cognitive psychologists:
  • Participating in research to better understand thought processes
  • Teaching at universities and other educational institutions
  • Attempting to better understand memory retention
  • Treating people struggling with Alzheimer's Disease
  • Assisting children with memory and processing problems
  • Meeting with patients who have inadequate problem-solving and language skills
  • Researching the cognitive processes of convicted criminals and the mentally insane
Although cognitive psychologists have a good understanding of how the brain synthesizes and retains information, there is still plenty to learn in this field.

Education and Training

Cognitive psychologists practicing clinically and conducting research hold doctoral degrees. It takes about 4-5 years following undergraduate study to earn a PhD in cognitive psychology, and most graduate students complete an internship before finishing a degree program.

Most students enrolled in cognitive psychology degree programs are required to complete courses in research methodologies, social psychology, behaviorism, neuroscience, cognitive learning, statistics, and sociology.

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