Cognitive revolution

           From approximately the 1920 to the 1950’s American psychology was dominated by behaviorism, so the scientific study of the brain and the mind in psychology can be considered relatively new. Believe it or not early psychology schools like functionalism, structuralism and behaviorism made a great contribution to the development of cognition. Some of them influenced cognitive psychologists by presenting prominent ideas and some of them made cognitive studies the result of criticizing some of their ideas.         

The challenges that faced behaviorism plaid an important role in the rise of cognitive psychology. The question that faced behaviorism here was: can all learning be explained by simple conditioning? And the answer of course was no. Not all organisms or animals behaved the same way behaviorists thought they would, and one of the famous examples here is the cognitive map. Edward Tolman conducted an experiment with rats in mazes to show that behavior is not always related to "stimulus-response". In his experiment Tolamn was able to prove that rats can form a cognitive map of the maze, if a familiar path is blocked the rat was able to adopt an alternative route based on the cognitive map he formed. And of course the cognitive map is not the only example; we can also find preparedness by Garcia, Instinctual drift by the Brelands and observational learning by Bandura. Another problem that faced behaviorism is world war two, in this war behaviorist's predictions began to break down in practice which caused the lost of trust in behaviorism.


       Like any scientific discipline psychology was not influenced by psychology itself alone but rather by other disciplines. An important invention that created an amazing analogy to memory is computer, which opened the doors to studying memory. Memory was not the only cognitive process effected by the development of the computer, other cognitive processes like thinking, learning, perception and problem solving were also the result of many studies since computers presented an anlogy to all of them and an outstanding example is Turing machine. Technology was not the only contributor to the rise of cognitive psychology of course, in the 1950’s there was a big shift in the understanding of language and its components and one of the pioneers in this context is Noam Chomsky.     

 An important idea to keep in mind is that we cannot blame behaviorists for not studying cognitive process since the research methods that were used by cognitive psychologists were the result of technology. It is technology that provided us with eye tracking machines, MRI, FMRI, EEG and other techniques that we use today.

            The study of cognitive processes was considered a revolution since it changed everything. However we should not forget the schools of thoughts that preceded it, because they were the reason of the creation of cognitive psychology.  

See Also:

Structuralism and functionalism

Psychoanalytic Approach