Development of Cognitive Psychology

Karl Hudspeth

John Stuart Mill 1806 – 1873: His mental chemistry set the stage for cognitive psychology as an experimental science of the mind. His analysis attacked the common belief that human thoughts, feelings and actions are not subject to scientific investigation in the same way that physical nature is.

Gustav Theodor Fechner 1801- 1887: Fechner took Mill’s lead and showed that cognitive events could be studied experimentally. He developed psychophysics and showed that a science of the mind was indeed possible. At this time vitalism was the common belief. “For vitalists life was more than just a physical process, and could not be reduced to such a process. Futhermore, because it was not physical, the “life force” was forever beyond the scope of scientific analysis.

Hermann Ebbinghaus 1850 – 1909: Under the influence of Fechner, studied learning and memory experimentally, discovering foundational facts that remain canonical today. He studied the processes of learning and memory as they occurred rather than after they occurred. Futhermore, they were investigated experimentally. At this time it was believed that higher mental processes could not be studied experimentally.

William James 1842 – 1910: Summerized the already considerable research on cognition (The Principles of Psychology). For James it was not proper for science to determine which aspects of the human experience are worthy of investigation and which are not. Structuralism (the goal which was to describe the structure of the mind) was the popular belief of this time. This was a pure science with interest only in the elements of consciousness.

The Wurzburg school 1862 – 1915: Conducted research on a wide array of cognitive topics. At this time it was believed that higher mental processes could not be studied experimentally.

Sir Frederic Charles Bartlett 1886 – 1969: In his book, ‘Remembering: A study in Experimental and Social Psychology demonstrated how memory is influenced more by personal, cognitive themes or schema than by mechanical laws of association. (Before) 1930 – (After) 1950: Radical behaviorism was highly influencial and it was widely believed that cognitive events were simply by-products of brain activity and could be ignored.

Donald Hebb – 1960: Hebb, president of the APA stated in a speech the first phase of the “cognitive revolution” in psychology had taken place. The behavioristic phase produced percise, factual knowledge and scientific rigor that had not previously existed in psychology. The behaviorists minimized or banished such topics as thought, imagery, volition, and attention. Hebb urged that the second phase of the revolution use the scientific rigor promoted by the behaviorists to study cognitive processes.

By the late 1960’s cognitive psychology was mature enough to have its own courses and textbooks. The first such work to be widely adopted was Neisser’s 1967n”Cognitive Psychology’.

***All of the information provided is directly from An Introduction to the History of Psychology by B.R. Hergenhahn & Tracy B. Henley