Cognitive Psychology Experiments

Cognitive psychology experiment cover

Psychology has many forms and this field of study continues to adapt and change to the new thought processes of humans. To understand the human mind, experiments are conducted in the realm of psychology to understand and cement the theories that have been presented recently or have been around for many years. Before Cognitive Psychology, psychology was concerned with behaviorism, though it helps us understand the behaviors, processing the information by the mind was still unknown. In this article, we’ll talk about the experiments that are categorized under the field of Cognitive psychology.

Cognitive Psychology

Before we dive into the experiments, we must understand this type of psychology first. Cognitive psychology is basically the study of the information processing of our minds, this includes perception, attention, memory, language, and thinking. It should also be noted that this psychology’s research is also used in machine learning and AI designs.

Experiments of Cognitive Psychology

  • Magical Number 7: A psychologist, George A. Miller said that human mental capacity maxes out at 7±2. This means that each individual can hold up anywhere from 5 to 9 concepts, ideas, or information about anything in the short-term memory. In 1956, he gathered participants and presented them with one-dimensional judgment tones, meaning each one was a slightly different pitch from the last. Participants were able to easily and accurately tell up to 6 or 7 tones but as the number of stimuli increased, they began failing to remember the difference, hence the memory cognition was known. He later published his research, which now is also known as Miller’s law.
Magic number 7

A visual symbolizing seven number capacity of our brain.

  • The Schacter and Singer experiment on emotions: While cognitive psychology’s experiments were still fairly new, two psychologists Stanley Schacter and Jerome E. Singer wanted to test the psychological processing of new variables within the human mind and if they have any effect on emotions. In 1962, 184 male participants were gathered and they were told that a new eye-sight improving medicine is being tested on them. However, they were being injected with epinephrine, a hormone that causes arousal along with increased heartbeat and rapid breathing. Later these participants were separated into groups of two, where one group was told that they’d feel such effects while another group was told nothing about the effects. Finally, these participants were told to wait in the room where one more individual would be waiting, who posed as a participant, however, these were confederates of the psychologists. These confederates were told to either act angry or euphoric. The participants who were told about the effects, acted happily regardless of the confederate’s behavior while the group who had not been informed acted with mixed emotions. They concluded that it is the processing and the interpretation of the situation which changes one’s emotions. Though this study was highly praised for two decades, however, it is being highly criticized now as psychologists are unable to recreate the effects.
  • Value Variables: According to Jerome S. Burner, an object can be perceived as large or small depending on the value of the object to an individual. In 1950, Burner and his fellow psychologist conducted an experiment where they asked young children to tell the size of a coin. In this experiment, children were either from poor households or rich families. Burner observed that even though the coin was the same and given to the children of the same age, rich children told the size of the coin to be realistic while the children from poor backgrounds perceived the coin to be larger than its actual size. Value of the coin to a child being the only variable in this experiment, he established that perception can be altered by our thought processing.
  • Bobo Doll Experiment: In 1961, cognitive psychologist, Albert Bandura conducted an experiment regarding perception, attention, and imitation. He wanted to theorize if aggression is the result of social behavior. A total of 72 pre-schoolers, where 36 were boys and 36 were girls were used in the research. Later, these children were exposed to aggression towards the bobo doll, then these kids were taken to a room where both aggressive and non-aggressive toys were placed. Non-aggressive toys being tea-cups, crayons, and such while aggressive toys being a 3 feet tall bobo doll and dart gun. It was seen that boys were imitating physical aggression right away to the bobo doll and had no effect on who they observed prior to this. Meanwhile, girls first observed if the doll was attacked by a male adult or a female adult and then act accordingly. If the doll was attacked by a male they showed physical aggression but if the doll was attacked by a female, they showed verbal aggression with minor physical attacks. This test concluded that aggression, like many other emotions, is learned by observing others.
Bobo Doll Experiment

Children imitating the attack on the Bobo doll in the experiment.

  • Iconic Memory: Enhancing and adding to the experiment of Magic Number Seven, George Sperling demonstrated that our processing and sensory memory’s capacity still holds true even though the exposure to the subject is reduced. In 1960, he conducted the experiment with a mirror tachistoscope, on which letters were shown to the participants. Unlike other experiments of perception and memory, Sperling showed random letters and numbers to the participants, however, only for a fraction of a second. Despite this participants were able to remember accurately up to 7 letters. Though the name Iconic Memory was established and given by psychologist Ulric Neisser in 1967.
  • The Feature Integration Theory: In 1982, cognitive psychologists Anne Treisman and Hilary Schmidt conducted an experiment to establish that two physical features even though independent of one another can be integrated into the early processing. In the experiments, participants were shown four objects but the image also had 2 black numbers in front and this image was only shown for about one-fifth of a second. Also, to mitigate and residual perceived processing a blank image with a black dot was shown as well in between. When asked to label the numbers with the images, participants strongly claimed that two or more images were joined together during the test. This is known as illusory conjunction where our mind processes two separate images into one, which was explained by The Feature Integration Theory.

These are some of the well-known examples of cognitive psychology, however, it is not limited to these. As we can see it plays a huge role in understanding the processing of sensory information. Great researches are being conducted in this field that is truly marvelous and helping psychologists and researchers learn more about the processing of various information.

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