A Brief History of Cognitive Psychology Theory pdf (Part-2)

A Brief History of Cognitive Psychology Theory pdf (Part-2)

Continuing our journey on the origins of the ideas about the mind, A Brief History of Cognitive Psychology Theory pdf, this Article focuses on Behaviourism and Gestalt Psychology, these two schools are considered a major contributors to the emergence of Cognitive Psychology. We will also learn how the developments in other fields, in particular, artificial intelligence, paved a new approach to studying the human mind.

The third Article is also about a brief history of cognitive psychology if you might remember that in the last Article we were talking about how cognitive psychology developed from philosophy, we talked about some of the earlier philosophers like –

  •  Hippocrates 
  • Aristotle
  •  Plato

Modern philosophers like –

  • Descartes 
  • Locke 
  • Kant 

And we then moved on to the various schools of thought that exist in psychology we talked about the Following Points –

  • Structuralism.
  • Wilhelm Wundt and how they wanted to chart a periodic table of human experience.
  • We talked about functionalists like William James who wanted to know why people behave the way they do.
  • And then we moved on to associationism – associationism talks about how people connect ideas or events in time.
  • We saw how Ebbinghaus connected and applied these principles of associationism to see how a person could learn certain information using processes called rehearsal.
  • We also talked about the principle of the law of effect given by Edward Thorndike in which he says that the person learns a particular behavior if he or she is rewarded for doing that.

Let us today move on to another school of psychology that had a deep impact on how cognitive psychology developed as a subject.

Schools of Psychology

Now, this school of psychology commonly referred to as behaviorism evolved out of associationism itself, these people at the same time as the associationists Edward Thorndike and Hermann Ebbinghaus started doing experiments with animals and investigating the various stimulus and response associations these experiments led to this emergence of a field called behaviorism.


Behaviorism focuses primarily on the relationship between these stimuli between the behavioral responses and the environmental stimuli, the idea was to move towards the physical from the mental.

If you remember the last Article the discourse was mainly about what is mental the mental processes the relationship between the mind and body and primarily because the fee the scope of thought was developing in philosophy, gradually it came down to psychology where again you find that the structuralists were also concerned more with the mental than with the physical realities, it was the associationists who started talking about physical events in response to stimuli that the environment presented

Ivan Pavlov (1849 – 1936)


Let us talk about this Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov, now Ivan Pavlov was a physiologist who was studying the digestive system of dogs he kept a dog in his lab and there was a technician who used to feed the dog regularly or periodically, now what Pavlov finds out that whenever his technician comes to feed the dog, the dogs start salivating there’s a salivary response when they just see the person who feeds them, when they see this technician the technician might not be carrying food then it is still in anticipation that maybe, we are going to get food that these dogs are salivating.

Something interesting is happening here these organisms are learning a particular response from seeing a particular event, the event of coming off this technician, Pavlov then went on to study this pairing more systematically, he found out that if you pair an almost unrelated stimulus to a stimulus that is naturally eliciting a particular kind of a response people can be made to learn the pairing of these two stimuli.


Example –

If you present food the response will be a salivating response. ok now, what you do is you start presenting the food along with the sound of a particular bell, now you see that, because the bell is presented with the food the salivating response is still there however if you repeat this pairing a few times and consistently you will find that the salivating response can be elicited by using the bell alone itself now this pairing or this form of learning which is happening here was termed as classical conditioning, this is one of the central tenets of psychology which was investigated and principles of conditioning were developed by this Russian physiologist called Ivan Pavlov.

So this is the setup where you can see that the dog is tied down there is an observation screen there is also a place to a device placed there to count the drops of saliva so this is a typical setup in which you can measure or investigate this classical conditioning phenomenon.

John Watson (1878 – 1958)


Another person who took this field of behaviorism much further or is supposed or is supposed to be the founder of behaviorism was john Watson, now john Watson was an interesting psychologist because he believed that the premise of psychology should only be the observable facts, the observable behavior he said that it is not possible to objectively study the workings of the mind because if you think, he might make some sense the process of thinking the process of feeling, etc cannot be objectively measured and that is precisely what the point Watson was making he said that because we cannot measure these things no thermometer can measure whether you’re feeling sad or happy then we should not study them at all maybe psychology as a science should not concern itself with things that you cannot measure.

The mind as a black box

so psychologists from this brand of school of thought called behaviorism viewed the mind as a black box what they wanted to talk about was that you present a particular stimulus and you get a particular response and there is this black box in the middle we should not be concerned with this black box at all because we cannot engage with the black box so they were more interested in looking at how different kinds of inputs or how different kinds of stimulus can be presented and what kinds of responses they would generate so they would manipulate the times and the pairings and the different kinds of parents there could be between a particular stimulus and a particular kind of response and that is what the subject matter of psychology should be according to the behaviorists

B.F Skinner (1904 – 1990)


B.F skinner was another behaviorist very influential and what he was using was the system of reinforcements and punishments so he said that if you have to teach somebody a particular skill if you have to make somebody learn a particular skill you might need to reinforce them, so you might need to add positive rewards to reinforce people to learn something

For example –

If you want people to unlearn something if you want people to stop behaving in particular ways then what you should do is you could give them consistent punishments, so this system of reinforcements and punishments was seen as the way of achieving learning and bf skinner believed that this is one of how all human behavior is learned, he said that it is only through a system of reinforcements or punishments that humans learn whatever abilities skills and behaviors that they do, so he used these principles to develop theories about how to teach children and create peaceful societies.

Popular Quotes from Skinner

one of the very popular quotes from skinner is that “if you give me a child and if you give me the perfect conditions to raise the child and you ask me to make him any anybody from a scientist to an artist to an actor if you give me the right kind of conditions I will be able to do that” this scheme of reinforcements and punishments and this form of learning came to be known as operant conditioning.

Gestalt Psychology


Another school of psychology that was rather slightly more removed from this behaviorism was that of gestalt psychology, now you have to be slightly patient and you might want to take a step to recall all that we have studied till now and you will see what the behaviorists are trying to tell you is something which might be a bit disturbing for people to observe, what they are trying to tell you is humans are no better than animals or no better than machines because if they are given consistent stimuli with a particular time pattern or say for example with particular contiguity they will reliably and predictably produce the same responses.

Now if you give a thought about yourself and how you behave or the behavioral patterns of any person you might realize that that is not really the case, so there was this response brewing up towards behaviorism and people gradually were also realizing that if you really have to understand human behavior you have to talk about internal events, you have to talk about things that happen in the mind, a behaviorist generally would desist from doing so and he would discourage you actively from doing so, but there was another school of psychology that was that came very close in time after behaviorism which brought the focus back to internal events, this school of psychology was the gestalt school of psychology.

this was a school of psychologists like Wolfgang Köhler and some others who are in Germany and this is a very popular school of psychology in Germany, they said that it that we will best understand psychological phenomena when we view them as organized structured holes so even though they might be con they might be constructed of a variety of components we would want to really view them as holistic patterns, so your experiences even though you might say that they are constructed of different components of experience but if you want to really understand you would want to understand them as holes, so according to this view we cannot fully understand behavior when we only break the phenomena down into smaller components.


Let us take an example –

I was saying earlier when I was talking about structuralism that if you have to describe your experience of looking at a flower you might want to talk about its color you might want to talk about its odor you might want to talk about its shape or texture but a gestalt psychologist would ask you that is the color of the flower the experience of the flower in itself or let us say is the shape of the flower the experience of the flower in itself, you would be forced to conclude then that it is neither of these components but all of those components put together that constitute your experience of a flower, that is pretty much what the gestalt psychologist wanted us to understand, so they believed in this maxim called the whole.

The whole is more than the sum of its parts which makes a lot of sense if you see how people understand behavior, as I talked about this example already so let us move on to the emergence of cognitive Psychology.

The emergence of cognitive Psychology

Now you see we have charted the growth of this, the entire background from philosophy to modern philosophers to these various schools of psychology, which are.

  •  Structuralism 
  • Functionalism 
  • Associationism 
  •  Behaviorism 

Behaviorism by far is the most radical school of thought and it was the most popular school of thought in psychology in the early 19th century but things were changing around that time people were gradually realizing as I said from the gestalt psychologists onwards that you have to really to get a complete explanation of the human experience or to get a complete understanding of human behavior you cannot do without really talking about the internal mental events, the behaviorists were very against this proposal and they were continuously engaged in coming up with explanations which base typically consisted of particular stimulus-response associations and how these stimulus-response associations lead on to more complex behaviors, so let us see how cognitive psychology emerged from all of this background.

The Beginning


Now by the early 1950s, there was a movement called the cognitive revolution that was slowly taking place cognitivism is this idea that rejects the notion that psychologists should not study mental processes because they are unobservable instead cognitivism looks to develop methods and ways to study the internal workings of the mind ok so this field focuses on specifically studying mental processes those that cannot be observed but through ingenious ways through ingenious experiments designed to study exactly those things, those workings of the mind, there was a few preceding ways there were a few events that led on to the development of cognitive psychology.


So one of them was this influence of psychobiology you might remember john Locke trying to say that mind and body are the same things ok so jumping right from there, a few developments were going on in psychobiology that were telling people that it indeed could be the brain which could be the seat of human behavior, one of these prominent theorists in this field was Karl Lashley.


Karl Lashley

Karl Lashley was an earlier student of bf skinner and he went on to challenge the behaviorist view he said that it’s foolish to assume that the human brain is a passive organism and it is just reacting to these contingencies these stimulus-response associations, said and he believed that brain is active and is a dynamic organizer of human behavior and Lashley sought to understand how this macro organization of the brain, how this organization of various parts of the brain and the various activities that the brain does go on to form this complex behavior 

We engage in a lot of very complex behaviors, let us say a musical performance or say for example writing a poem or for example, playing a particular game, now lashley was interested in understanding how very simple events or very simple styles of behavior combined together to form these complex activities that humans are engaged in, so lashley did a lot of experiments with rats in his lab and he found out or he concluded that memory is not really localized in a particular part of the brain it is distributed so you see that this connection is being made that brain might be the seat of behavior which is your memory again which is unobservable but not only that but also that memory is distributed across the various regions of the brain, so by this time lashley gave a view to all the people who are interested and were working in psychology that you could link the brain and behavior you could make a link between the mind and the body and this is therefore considered to be one of the most important steps or one of the most important preceding steps which led to the development of what is called cognitive psychology.

Donald Hebb (1904 – 1985)


Another influential scientist who was working in the psychobiological tradition was Donald Hebb, Donald Hebb proposed the same concept of cell assemblies as the basis of learning in the brain Donald Hebb ah proposed that these cell assemblies which are these coordinated neural structures that develop through frequent stimulation 

For example –

If you show a person a particular shape or you show a particular person a particular line a slanted or a horizontal line there will be this assembly of cells that will be registering the different aspects of the line whether it is a colored line is a thick or a thin line or it is a tilted or a straight line, all of those cells might eventually start lighting up together or start firing together. Donald Hebb was saying that it is this firing together of neurons that leads to learning.

So they say that these cells develop over time ability this ability develops over time of one neuron to stimulate firing in a connected neuron, so once these connections are formed say for example there is the first neuron which registers property a and then it leads to firing of the second neuron and all of these connections gradually lead to the formation of a neuronal assembly that which is responsible for you learning any particular kind of behavior.

verbal behavior Book

Another interesting event after this emergence of psychobiology as an interesting field of thought was the review of a book which b f skinner wrote and this book was titled verbal behavior now if you remember I was saying that the behaviorist psychologists were still around in the 1950s and 60s and what they were doing is they were attempting explanations of human behavior through this set of associations reinforcements punishments and all of that, b.f skinner wrote a book titled verbal behavior in which he explained the entire chart of language acquisition and language use as built upon these stimulus-response associations

Noam Chomsky (1928)


 linguist Noam Chomsky was around at the scene then and he wrote a very scathing review of bf skinner’s ideas he took the book apart while contesting all the fundamental assumptions or all the fundamental proposals that b f skinner was making, Chomsky on the radical extreme said that language or acquisition or usage of language has both characteristics it has the biological foundations while also it has the creative foundations, so they said that it is not mere learning or it is not mere reinforcement or punishment that is leading us to learn the language, it is both things it is the biological substrates and also the creative part also the part that is uniquely human that is leading to us learning any language, imagine 

For example –

if I come and tell you that whatever sentences you have learned are those that were taught to you by your parents or say for example there were those that you learn by going through these stimulus-response associations you say something you are rewarded, make a mistake you are punished

How many languages do we learn like that? this is what Chomsky said so he pointed out and he and likewise he pointed out the infinite number of sentences that we can produce with ease without having learned them specifically or without having either kind of conditioning or instruction, so in this Chomsky, while he wrote this scathing review of verbal behavior he made a very specific point he made the point that there are biological, contributions to human behavior also he made the point that the human brain is something that is actively processing active information, creating something new which in the behaviors paradigm was considered impossible, one of the reasons why they did not want to study that, so thereby you see that Chomsky defies this notion that we learn language through this reinforcement or punishment schedules.

Edward Tolman (1886 – 1959)


a similar idea ah to what Chomsky was saying is also presented by Edward Tolman, now Edward Tolman was doing these experiments of learning uh with these rats and he found out that rats do not learn to navigate through a maze merely by the points that where they are reinforced or where the food is provided they’re processing the entire information of the maze and they’re actively learning and storing that information so he said that there is something called latent learning that is happening there is some kind of a cognitive map being generated in that sense again the brain is put forward or the mind is put forward as an active processor of information rather than an instrument that is just recording stimulus-response associations, now you see these ideas are real or are a major departure from what we have been talking about till now, these were the basic contributing events that finally lead to what cognitive psychology has become now.

Influence of Technology

So there was also in the 1950s influence of technology, by this time the machines were being made advanced machines were there the second world war has ended so there are many advanced machines and psychologists and computer scientists at the same time we’re wondering about a particular question, what that question was, that question was that “whether machines could also be programmed to demonstrate intelligent behavior” 

Turing test

Alan turning was around that time alan Turing suggested that soon it will be hard to distinguish the communication of machines, from the communication of humans he said that gradually the machines will be so advanced you will not be able to differentiate whether the response is being given by a machine or given by a human, he also developed a test to that effect which is now known as the Turing test so there could be you could be talking to a machine and the machine could be responding back and by a virtue of that test, you will be able to tell that whether the person, on the other hand, is a machine or is the computer.

The computers of that time pass the Turing test so for some people it was difficult for in some instances it was difficult to tell whether the responses to a person’s questions were generated by a computer or generated by a human now these were advances in technology that were taking place and it was obvious and it was natural that people thought that here is an era where we can create machines which will elicit with what is called human behavior or intelligent behavior much as the humans are doing, in some sense you see that they kind of overestimated the development of machines or let us say they probably underestimated the sophistication or the complexity of the human brain.


Artificial Intelligence

By this time around 1956 in the same era, this is happening artificial intelligence is also born, the concept of artificial intelligence defined as an attempt by humans to construct systems that show intelligence for example that show intelligent processing of information.

now artificial intelligence was around that time and as I said it was thought that computers could simulate or mimic the behavior or intelligent processing information as humans would do

 by the 1960s developments were happening in other fields as well so for example in the fields of psychobiology in the fields of linguistics in the fields of anthropology artificial intelligence etc these developments all happening at the same time were converging to answer the same questions that were raised many many years ago as we saw in the last Article in the philosophical discourse, the questions about mind and body the questions about how the mind can lead to complex behaviors or say for example how the mind controls the body.

 those were the questions that now became very significant questions and all of these fields were converging together in their respective ways to answer these questions.

 now this then became the era of the early cognitive psychologist’s cognitive psychology was now coming into being plainly by the virtue of the kind of questions that were being asked by some of these rather famous like 

  • George miller 
  • alan Neville
  •  shaw herbert 
  • Simon 

and others, now these early cognitive psychologists argued that the traditional behaviorist accounts of behavior were inadequate simply because they are not talking about how people are thinking they are not talking about this human behavior they are not talking about what mental processes are happening, so their view was that unless you talk about the covert process, unless you talk about the mental events you cannot completely explain human behavior and in that lies their shortcoming.

George Miller

an interesting example of a response of this kind was that of George miller George Miller introduced the concept of channel capacity wherein he proposed that the upper limit with which an observer can match a response to presented information, is around seven so he says that if you can remember seven digits presented to you sequentially your channel capacity for remembering digits is around seven so you see the focus is shifting towards seeing the processing of information by the human mind much like the processing of information that goes on in computers or other machines.

Cognitive psychology Book

you will recognize the wrote a book called cognitive psychology in 1967 which also became especially critical in bringing cognitivism to the fore, the idea was that you were explaining that this book was attempting to explain the prominence of the field to undergraduate graduate students’ early career academics and inviting all of them to the field of inquiry that was new and budding is defined cognitive psychology as the study of how people

  • Learn
  • Structure 
  • Store 

and use knowledge.

the whole discourse has now been shifted towards mental functions or devising new ways more innovative ways to understand what these mental functions are, subsequently alan Neville and herbert Simon proposed rather detailed models of thinking and problem solving from the most basic levels to the most complex levels, now the focus has entirely shifted on these mental functions.

by the 1970s cognitive psychology was then recognized as a major field of psychological study with a distinctive set of research methods we will talk about these research methods in the coming Articles but before we close today’s Article.

Quick Recap

  • We have talked about in the two Articles on the history of psychology, we began with talking about the ideas of rationalism and empiricism 
  • We talked about the problems in philosophy regarding the connection between the mind and body were they the same thing or they were different or how they interacted 
  • We talked about the early schools of psychology structuralism functionalism associationism 
  • We also talked eventually about how the cognitive revolution came up as a consequence of all of these schools of thought that existed right from the greek philosophers to the behaviorist psychologists like b.f skinner and john Watson with this I would like to close this article on the history of psychology and we will meet in the next Article thank you.

Read also:

A Brief History of Cognitive Psychology Theory, Example, Pdf

Introduction to Cognitive Psychology Theory, Example, Images

Click here for Complete Psychology Teaching Study Material in Hindi – Lets Learn Squad

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