Psychology Returns to Its Roots: Renewed Interest in Cognition and




While applied psychology has blossomed in recent years, research has

continued to evolve. Ironically, two of the latest trends in research hark

back a century to psychology's beginning, when psychologists were

principally interested in consciousness and physiology. Today psychologists

are showing renewed interest in consciousness (now called "cognition") and

the physiological bases of behavior (Baars, 1986; Bruce, 1980).


Cognition refers to the mental processes involved in acquiring knowledge.

In other words, cognition involves thinking or conscious experience. For

many decades, the dominance of behaviorism discouraged investigation of

"unobservable" mental processes, and most psychologists showed little

interest in cognition. During the1950s and 1960s, however, this situation

slowly began to change. Major progress in the study of children's cognitive

development (Piaget, 1954), memory (Miller, 1956), language (Chomsky,

1957), and problem solving (Newell, Shaw, & Simon,1958) sparked a surge of

interest in cognitive psychology.


Since then, cognitive theorists have argued that psychology must study

internal mental events to fully understand behavior (Gardner,1985;

Neisser,1967). Advocates of the cognitive perspective point out that our

manipulations of mental images surely influence how we behave.

Consequently, focusing exclusively on overt behavior yields an incomplete

picture of why we behave as we do. Equally important, psychologists

investigating decision making, reasoning, and problem solving have shown

that methods can be devised to study cognitive processes scientifically.

Although the methods are different from those used in psychology's early

days, recent research on the inner workings of the mind has put the psyche

back in contemporary psychology.


The 1950s and 1960s also saw many discoveries that highlighted the

interrelations among mind, body, and behavior. For example, psychologists

demonstrated that electrical stimulation of the brain could evoke emotional

responses such as pleasure and rage in animals (Olds, 1956). Other work

showed that the right and left halves of the brain are specialized to

handle different types of mental tasks (Gazzaniga, Bogen, & Sperry, 1965).

Excitement was also generated by the finding that people can exert some

self-control over internal physiological processes, including electrical

activity in the brain, through a strategy called biofeedback (Kamiya,

1969). These and many other findings stimulated an increase in research on

the biological bases of behavior. Advocates of the biological perspective

maintain that much of human and animal behavior can be explained in terms

of the bodily structures and biochemical processes that allow organisms to

behave. As you know, in the l9th century the young science of psychology

had a heavy physiological emphasis. Thus, the recent interest in the

biological bases of behavior represents another return to psychology's



Although adherents of the cognitive and biological perspectives haven't

done as much organized campaigning for their viewpoint as proponents of the

older, traditional schools of thought have done, these newer perspectives

have become important theoretical orientations in modern psychology. They

are increasingly influential regarding what psychology should study and

how. The cognitive and biological perspectives are compared to other

contemporary theoretical perspectives (behavioral, psychoanalytic, and

humanistic) in Table 1.2.


World War I and World War 11 played a major role in the growth of applied

psychology, as psychologists were forced to apply their expertise to

practical problems, such as ability testing and training. The top photo

shows military personnel working on one of a series of tests devised to aid

in the selection of air crew trainees during World War 11. The bottom photo

shows a booklet sold to help recruits prepare for the Army General

Classification Test and other related tests. Its popularity illustrates the

importance attached to the military's mental testing program.


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