The Cognitive Psychology field is fundamentally the study of knowledge itself; that is, it deals with people’s acquisition of thoughts and ideas, with how humans use knowledge, how they organise it into a system and the conditions under which they retain knowledge over time.
‘Cognitive’ comes from the Latin word cognoscere meaning to get to know, or to learn. It is the modern psychological equivalent of a much older discipline in philosophy called epistemology, which is the study of how knowledge is acquired.
Accordingly, cognitive psychologists study how people recognize patterns of stimuli and assess how existing knowledge affects new learning. They study people’s ability to select certain stimuli for the focus of attention while simultaneously ignoring others, how subliminal material can influence conscious attention and how people can perform more than one task at once.
They look at various classes of memory, such as short- and long-term memory systems and examine their duration, capacities, their mechanisms of storage and their failures in retrieval. Language, reasoning, problem solving and even unconscious mental functioning are specialized preoccupations within cognitive psychology.
Most cognitive psychologists are research oriented, although they also usually instruct in colleges and universities.
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