Key Issues in the Study of Cognitive Psychology

If the important ideas are reviewed, it is observed that some major themes underlie all of cognitive psychology. Some of these issues are discussed dialectically here:

Nature versus Nurture – Which is more influential in human cognition – nature or nurture? If we believe that innate characteristics of human cognition are more important, we might focus our research on studying innate characteristics of cognition. If we believe that the environment plays an important role in cognition, we might conduct research exploring how distinctive characteristics of the environment seem to influence cognition.

Rationalism versus Empiricism – How should we discover the truth about
ourselves and about the world around us? Should we do so by trying to reason
logically, based on what we already know? Or should we do so by observing and
testing our observations of what we can perceive through our senses? And how
can we combine theory with empirical methods to learn the most we can about
cognitive phenomena?

Structures versus Processes – Should we study the structures (contents, attributes, and products) of the human mind? Or should we focus on processes of human thinking?

Domain generality versus Domain specificity – Are the processes we observe
limited to single domains, or are they general across a variety of domains? Do
observations in one domain apply also to all domains, or do they apply only to
specific domains observed?

Validity of causal inferences versus Ecological validity – Should we study cognition by using highly controlled experiments that increase the probability of valid inferences regarding causality? Or should we use more naturalistic techniques?

Applied versus Basic research – Should we conduct research into fundamental
cognitive processes? Or should we study ways in which to help people use
cognition effectively in practical situations?

Biological versus Behavioural methods – Should we study the brain and its functions directly, perhaps even scanning the brain while people are performing cognitive tasks? Or should we study people’s behavior in cognitive tasks, looking at measures such as percentage correct and reaction time?

Note that these questions can be posed in the “either/or” form of thesis/antithesis, or in the both/and form of a synthesis of views or methods, which often proves more useful than one extreme position or another.

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