Foundations of Cognitive Psychology Theory

Foundations of Cognitive Psychology Theory

Today in This Article we will focus on the “Cognitivist View” Foundations of Cognitive Psychology Theory, which is an alternative to the behaviorist view, We will also explore the possibilities of studying how the mind and brain are related by using central identity theory and token identity theory. The latter part of the Article covers, “Functionalism” which is considered one of the core principles in understanding mental states.

What is the cognitivist view?

The cognitivist view basically assumes that there is an abstract entity called the mind and that this abstract entity is composed of these mental states and mental processes it is concerned with exploring the nature of these mental processes that is what cognitive psychology is meant to do, now cognitive psychology then may be defined as the study of the mind to the extent that we can generate testable statements about these abstract entities.


Because you want to talk about these in a scientific manner so you want to generate predictions you want to test those predictions and accept or reject them on the basis of those particular tests.

How do we do that?

We can do that if we operate within the framework where we can make certain assumptions so we made a particular assumption that this mental state leads to that kind of behavior and then what we can do is, we can test these assumptions can create a particular very specific hypothesis and go out and test them, importantly though however for our science to work properly, we must attempt to generate falsifiable theories.

So unless our theory is false if I will not really be able to test it.

For example, if you create an aircraft and you want to market this aircraft somebody asks you how strong your aircraft is or what all these aircraft is capable of doing, so you would want to test if you want to really test it and make it before really promising to your customers, so when do you choose to test it you don’t really want to test it on a clear day and a sunny day where there is no wind and the chances of it failing or anyways minimal, you would want to test it in the hardest of the flying conditions you do to see whether the aircraft performs well or it does not perform, that is what will give you some degree of confidence that if I sell this aircraft the person flying this will not really end up in an accident

This is pretty much what we want to do without theories you want to really make our theories which are open to testing and can be falsified and then we see whether they stand the rigor of a test or they do not stand the rigor of a test that is what we want to do in cognitive psychology.

Karl Popper


Karl Popper basically talks about you know attributes of how good a theory is or how you really evaluate a theory so he gives us a few points he says that –

A theory should be easy to verify so if I go and say that you know the Sun rises in the east you might be you know just quickly you know to turn your head towards the east see whether you know at a particular time obviously you see whether the Sun is there or not or Sun is rising from there or it should be very easy to verify.

Second, it should be refutable or else it will not be scientific if I say something like say for example you know God has done something it is not something that I can go and refute I will never get you to know the idea that God has done this or not so then it is not really a scientific theory because it cannot be tested.

Also, a genuine test of the theory is an attempt to falsify it if you really want to test a theory you want to attempt to falsify it you want to really test what are the conditions in which this theory will hold and what are the conditions in which this theory will not hold.

The genuine test of the theory

confirming evidence about the test or about any theoretical prediction that you make is not really counted it’s not really given a lot of weight unless it is a genuine test of the theory, okay unless you test it and then you find confirm and confirming evidence that is or you know that is only acceptable in that case.

In line with the above cognitive psychologists also try to do a similar thing, they are basically allowed to posit abstract entities on the assumption that they can be tested in this scientific way, theories therefore in cognitive psychology must be testable irrefutable, and falsifiable, further theories in cognitive psychology should also be extremely simple, that is again one of the things that popper said that theory should be simple, it should not have complex like X leads to Y leads to Z and leads to D then only you can say that X needs to D, there should not be so many conditions in the middle.


Example –

if I want you to compare this to mental operations compare (14 x 5 ) with ( 17 x 3 ), how do you do this comparison okay although we all differ in our ability to carry out this you know calculation from a cognitive perspective it seems fairly reasonable to assume that disability depends upon some mental representations.

mental representations of what multiplication is and mental representation of what numbers are this kind of mental body at least should be common to everyone.

Cognitive Explanation

Now whether the cognitive explanation is something also somebody can ask is whether the cognitive explanation is necessary for this kind of mental arithmetic you know you could simply say that there is a physical device in your head that really does this calculation.

So let us say if there is a physical device maybe it is said for example like this balance beam, if there is more you know weight on one side then it is then the number is more than the resultant it’s more if there’s more weight on the other side the certain areas, we can’t say that but can we use this physical explanation for many other calculations as well so the dilemma is why cognitive I call this would obviously wish to offer a cognitive explanation for the brain from for human behavior weather they would want to have you know ascribe this cognitive expression to the balance beam as well.

How do you then solve this and how do you really say that okay the balance beam is a physical device and I want to give a cognitive explanation?

You have to understand that while the balance beam can do some of your calculations you know it can do some simple multiplications some other you know addition subtraction division something like that but the special purpose mechanistic approach to this mental multiplication which is offered by this balance we may actually fail to provide a more comprehensive explanation of how this is done it does not really talk about how the numbers were represented how exactly this process of multiplication took place okay it will not be able to explain that in entirety.


Humans on the other hand can handle a versatile range of calculations you know we do a lot of different calculations and those calculations cannot be handled by simply physical devices such as the balance beam, so there is some merit to actually having this so you know the cognitive explanation of human behavior.

Why do you really want to talk about this mental explanation?

In order to understand this, we have to talk about how the mental and physical are related to how the mind which is an abstract entity is related to the brain which is a physical entity.

Central State Identity Theory

let us look at possibilities one of the possibilities is offered in this theory called the central state identity theory, the central state identity theory says that our mental lives are intimately connected with the things that go on in our brains, so anything that you do any mental activity that takes place can be mapped back on to any neural activity that happens in the brain

For example, brain damage sometimes leads to loss of memory loss of language loss of understanding things like that, so that relationship can be made that part is at least clear various attempts that is why I have been made to explore the mapping between these mental events and neurological

As you see people actually trying to do various investigations into how a particular neural event in the brain can lead to a particular mental event in your mind so to speak, the assumption is that two are related and the only doubt or the only confusion is how are they related and that is what basically cognitive psychology or cognitive neuroscience is really investigating.

Central State Theory

So the central state Theory basically forms the foundation of all the work in your cognitive psychology, cognitive neuroscience, etc there are two versions of this theory first is the type identity theory, so you can say that each type of mental event Maps on to a different kind of neural event

For example – remembering to perform a particular task X corresponds to one kind of an event which is happening in you know one kind of now cells firing and choosing not to perform the task X actually you know is basically based on another kind of nerve cells firing, so each type of event is related to different types of neurons which fire in the brain so this is one explanation

Now, one point has to be very careful when we use words like maps on to or corresponds to we were saying these terms will actually lead us to the materialist thing that there is a one-to-one correspondence between neural events and mental events we have to be a bit careful with that.

Now if you take an example you know if you hurt yourself the defining element of pain will be the sensation of hurting, now this peculiar thing about pain is that pain is not merely a sensation when it’s also a matter of perceptions some people with the same degree of hurt it might not feel that amount of pain so pain is also it’s not only sensation it’s also perception, you will be sensing that certain degree of you know tissue has been damaged or something like that has happened but your perception of that entire pain actually you know directly corresponds to your pain tolerance, if your tolerance is rather high you might feel less pain with the same amount of hurt as somebody who is God, low tolerance of pain now this is something which is a rather interesting and kind of creates problems for the type identity theory.


So the problem with identity theory is that it seems to force different things to be the same so there is this feeling of pain which is a mental event and there is the pattern of nerve cell firing which is a physical event. we are trying to have a one-to-one or basically trying to say that these two are the same things 

So if one follows this perspective this material is perspective we assume that everyone’s experience is perfectly predicted by everyone’s neural activity whatever is happening in each of our brains.

Different Brains Problem

Now so basically created some objections for this kind of position he says that there is something called the different brains problem.

Now take this example – Jones thinks it might rain and then in ourselves, A B C and D fire, on the other hand, Smith’s brain is different from Jones’s brain Smith there are different kinds of connections the structures that there’s obviously a lot of individual differences in the brains and you know rudimentary book or neuroscience will tell you that, now the point is say for example when Smith is thinking the same thought that it might train a different set of neurons are firing E F G H, okay, now the point is this is the problem we are talking about both men are actually entertaining the same thought but different neurons are firing for the same thought, now this cannot happen within the framework of the type identity theory, this is the basic problem.

Token Identity Theory

So from this problem actually comes another version of this identity theory which is your token identity theory what does it say it says that mental elements correspond to neurological events but there is an acceptance that there may be a variety of neurological events that may lead to the same kind of mental health.

For example – in this framework then it becomes really possible that different sets of neurons like A B C and D or E F G and H are actually leading to the same kind of mental event that is thinking of the brain.

As it stands token identity theories brand of materialism is the one which is providing the foundation for all kinds of working cognitive neuroscience that is where the field of cognitive neuroscience is really based we will talk about cognitive neuroscience in more detail is probably our second chapter.

Even this version actually if you really know examine closely and may run into difficulties concerning the understanding of subjective experience so what will actually not go into much more detail will stop here.

On a different note if we accept that patterns of nerve cells firings may give rise to the same thought you also need to be sure about what is it in these no cells firing that is leading to a particular kind of thought that is also what we will need to investigate and we’ll see that in the coming Articles.

What is a function?

The function is basically the purpose of anything or what something does 

For example – the function of the umbrella is to save you from rain or the function of the chalk is to write on the blackboard, now there are two things –

  • There is one set of structure
  • The concept of function

So the structure of something than could be different from its function okay what is the physical makeup of something and what it does are two slightly different things.

So when do we talk about function let us say when we want to have a functional description of something, so if you want a functional description letting us say a car’s engine what do we really want if you want a full understanding of what a car’s engine does you would want to know the structure of its components you would want to know how these are connected and you want to also know what roles each of these components are playing?


This right here is pretty much what is the functional description of a car’s engine so there is a patrol tank it leads to it’s connected to the petrol pump and the carburetor and the piston chamber which is connected to an AC diode but you don’t find this exponential complete unless you know –

  • What each of these things does?
  • What is the function of the petrol tank?
  • What is the function of the petrol pump?
  • What is the function of the car?

Unless you understand those things you will not understand what basically a car engine does, pretty much it is true for the human brain and so you might know the structure but you need to know the functions more importantly.

That is why it helps to have a functional description of the commands that is what will actually really further your understanding.


Traditionally such a design eventuates in something which is called the schematic diagram, such a diagram specifies each component and shows how each component is connected with other components also such a diagram reveals the flow of control between various components what is linked to what in what order what is the hierarchy.

Let us say what does the brain control your limbs or do the limbs control your brain those kinds of questions can be asked.

Another interesting aspect of this concept of functions is that at the level of the diagram we are not so bothered about how close the different concepts are to one another whether the pump is next to the tank or the carburetor we just want to see how they are connected, however, if we embellish the structural information with the description of the functions of the individual then the diagram becomes much more useful for us for understanding the car engine.

In our case such a description will allow us to discuss each of the individual components in the abstract without committing to the physical entities, so we can say there is a petrol engine that does this there is a carburetor that does that and our explanation could be purely a functional explanation that is pretty much what we attempt for the brain while you are talking about the cognitive psychology part, the focus basically shifts to the function and not so much to the structure.


This stream of thought in cognitive psychology is what is called functionalism it is now possible to see how two different brain States may underlie the same mental state okay because we’re concerned about the functions of those brain States.

The function basically is to lead to particular mental states so as long as the two neurophysiological states serve the same functional role then they can obviously capture the same mental state.

Okay, so mental state X can then be defined purely in terms of its function, this basically is what the crux of functionalism is.

The function is then defined in terms of causation okay what leads towards so a mental state X has a particular function insofar it leads to the same consequences be the new mental states or the same form of behavior, so a mental state could Lyrium X could lead to new mental states or it could lead to some particular form of failure, so you feel happy leads you to eat an ice cream something like that.

For example and thought it was going to rain and remember that she had left her kitchen window open okay she had to go and close it so here the mental state of thinking about rain, leads to the mental state of remembering that she had left her kitchen open and it leads to the physical behavior of action Z.


So as long as the functional description of the mental states in processes is the same for different individuals then our understanding of the particularity of the underlying neural operators will be generalizable, so as long as we know that you know the function of this area is this and the function of this particular being is that to that extent we will successfully able to explain or give theoretical models or theoretical explanations of particular kinds of human behavior,somebody has higher memory somebody has lower memory and that can lead to somebody remembering more information or somebody remembering less information, remember in this explanation are not really talking about somebody having more brain cells or more neurons or less neurons or better connected neurons or less connected you, I’m not really differing to that at all I’m just talking about memory, the entire discrimination description then is just nested on something which is rather abstract this is pretty much what we do in cognitive psychology.


So to sum up the cognitivist view of mind and behavior basically allows the assumption of abstract entities as the theoretical basis of human behavior, so you assume these abstract mental entities’ mental functions and you use these abstract mental entities to actually talk about human behavior.

Also, this cognitive viewpoint basically stresses the generation of scientifically testable assumptions okay whichever assumptions you generate should be scientifically testable, that is how it will remain the framework of cognitive psychology these are basically used to explain human behavior in a simple and testable scientific manner, it’s not really as deterministic as the behaviorist paradigm but it’s still you know does a good job of being tested or being falsified and then being accepted or rejected.

It also calls for a functional description rather than a material description of a human being, now this is this last point is the most important point that you would like to keep in mind (when you are talking about cognitive psychology when you’re talking about different mental functions in cognitive psychology more often than not we are actually only talking about the functional aspects we’re not really talking about you know the neural aspects we do talk about the neural aspects to term to some detail you know in every cognitive psychology paper there is a reference to that this this this happens and this happens because of this is an activity in the human brain so this is something which you would need to keep in mind) so here I will close the Article of today and we will talk about another aspect of another assumption in cognitive psychology in the next Article thank you.

Read also:

Foundational Assumptions of Cognitive Psychology Theory

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

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

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