History of Psychology – Opening the “Black Box”

While Social Psychology grew during the 1950’s and 1960’s, a majority of psychologists were still behaviourists.But the limits of behaviourism and its “black box” separating stimuli and responses had become more obvious, so psychologists wanted new ways to understand how the mind connected S to R. Also in the 1960’s, technology had progressed far beyond what was possible in previous decades, especially in computing science; computers had become a more viable and popular (and almost affordable) way of processing information.

Maybe due to this combination, the new paradigm in psychology was Cognitive Psychology, which attempted to study people’s actual  mental processes, such as memory, attention, and perception- it did this by seeing minds as working in a similar way to a computer.  The first person to use a computer analogy was Broadbent, who believed the brain could be seen as the “hardware”, and processes such as attention as the “software”. His Information Processing Model has been the dominant idea in psychology from the 1960’s up until the present day, which is remarkable considering how many sub-fields and approaches to psychology there now are.

Cognitive Psychology is also another example of psychology being connected to a lot of other topics; its development was originally thanks to not only computing, but the work of  Chomsky , Descartes, and 18th century empirical philosophers as well. This still applies today, as Cognitivism can be combined with other areas of psychology to form new fields e.g. Cognitive + Biological psychology= Evolutionary psychology. Another important combination is Cognitive + Developmental Psychology, which led to new theories of how children’s minds develop and how they learn, overlapping with educational psychology.

An important experiment which helped found Cognitive Psychology is Ebbinghaus’s forgetting curve- after testing himself remembering patterns of syllables, Ebbinghaus found that his recall dropped by half unless he revisited what he had learnt. In other words, he’s probably why people now know about revision, which is a pretty good reason for students to dislike this study.

Although many famous Cognitive Psychology experiments are about memory, it actually studies many more areas- from the scientific and experimental (such as visual perception and patterns) to the more abstract and philosophical (such as how we sense time passing, and how we develop language). This makes it one of the most useful psychological viewpoints, because it can be used in so many areas of psychology.

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