- Cognitive Psychologist Career
- What are the Responsibilities of a Cognitive Psychologist?
- Why is Cognitive Psychology Important?
- What is the Career Outlook for Cognitive Psychologists?
- How Much Does a Cognitive Psychologist Make?
- What Degree is Required for a Cognitive Psychologist?
- Useful Resources
- Become a Cognitive Psychologist
- Cognitive Psychology and Memory
- Encoding Stimuli to Memory
- Observing and Researching Cognition
- How to Become a Cognitive Psychologist
- Why Do We Need Cognitive Psychologists?
- What Are the Education Requirements to Become a Cognitive Psychologist?
- What Does a Cognitive Psychologist Do?
- Where Does a Cognitive Psychologist Work?
- What Is the Median Annual Salary of a Cognitive Psychologist?
- Related Careers
Cognitive Psychologist Career
The term cognitive is derived from the Latin word cognitio which means “knowledge”. The field of cognitive psychology is primarily concerned with how the mind functions.
There are various areas of research in which cognitive psychology is interested, including attention, perception, learning processes, memory, decision-making, and language development.
At its basis, cognitive psychology is the scientific study of the brain, its abilities, and the interaction between the brain and human behavior.
It is the last part, the interaction between brain processes and behavior, which is of particular interest to cognitive psychology.
Studies in this field typically center on becoming better informed about how humans acquire information from the environment and apply that information in order to achieve their goals.
Because of its focus on thinking, cognitive psychology usually includes a healthy amount of neuroscience, philosophy, biology, linguistics, and artificial intelligence.
What are the Responsibilities of a Cognitive Psychologist?
The vast majority of cognitive psychologists spend their careers in research. Early on, cognitive psychologists might conduct general research into cognition.
However, with time and experience, most psychologists in this field will focus in on a specific cognitive process to investigate, such as memory, childhood learning disabilities, or impairments of speech, and become an expert in that particular field of cognitive research.
Research can be conducted in a number of settings, from colleges and universities to government agencies to private research firms.
Teaching is also a popular track for psychologists trained in cognitive research. Many cognitive psychologists in academia teach at the graduate level, working with masters and doctorate students in specific areas of research.
Some cognitive psychologists, particularly those just entering the field, may work more with undergraduate students teaching general psychology classes, at least to begin with.
Teaching positions require psychologists to not only be experts in the field of cognition, but also carry out normal teaching duties, such as preparing lessons and activities, administering and grading exams, advising students, and conducting independent research for publication in journals.
There are job opportunities for cognitive psychologists in clinical settings as well. Some clinical psychologists operate from a cognitive theoretical perspective, which informs the manner in which they interpret and treat client behaviors.
Cognitive psychologists might work in medical or rehabilitative settings as well, working with patients that have cognitive dysfunctions that are related to brain injury, old age, or a developmental issue. In this context, cognitive psychologists carry out their jobs in a manner that is more closely related to clinical psychology.
They assess and evaluate clients, interpret their behavior, reflect on past events with clients in a therapeutic setting, and outline a process for treatment and recovery.
Why is Cognitive Psychology Important?
Cognitive psychology emphasizes the role of thought processes in learning and behavior. The foundational premise is that how people process information influences behavior choices. Understanding how people process information and how that affects their behavior is important.
From a mental health perspective, awareness of how information is processed becomes important when working with people so that they can understand how their thought processes influence their behavior choices.
In turn, they are better able to examine their internal thought processes to determine a course of action.
Understanding thought processes and behavior is not limited to psychotherapy however. Cognitive behavioral principles are used in other areas such as education and advertising.
Cognitive processes include speech and language, memory, learning and retention of information.
Educators are trained to use various techniques that can complement learning styles or compensate for memory or attention deficits.
Cognitive principles are even used by advertisers. Marketing to people means tapping into what resonates with them and will be most ly to elicit the behavior that companies want, which is buying their product.
Millions are spent in market research each year to determine the best way to influence consumer preferences and purchases.
The data from that research results in advertising designed to influence consumer buying decisions.
What is the Career Outlook for Cognitive Psychologists?
As a whole, the field of psychology is predicted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to grow at an average rate of 14% till 2018. However, some disciplines, including cognitive psychology, should experience more robust growth in the coming decade.
Part of the reason for expanded growth of cognitive psychology jobs is the continued interest in cognitive health issues for children, such as language development, and issues related to older adults, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Additionally, the rapid pace with which research methods and technologies are advancing necessitate qualified individuals to conduct cognitive research.
The job outlook for other applications of cognitive psychology, such as teaching at the collegiate level, will ly remain stable in the years to come.
Entry-level teaching positions should be fairly great in number, particularly as psychology programs continue to be offered at the vast majority of colleges and universities.
Higher paying faculty positions are more difficult to come by both because they are fewer in number and generally occupied by tenured professors.
How Much Does a Cognitive Psychologist Make?
As of March 2020, according to PayScale, psychologists in the United States earn an average salary of $77,158 per year. However, the salary range for psychologists varies widely their field of expertise.
Cognitive psychologists can expect to earn more money than average, depending upon the industry in which they work.
However, cognitive psychologists working in industrial-organizational settings earn a mean annual salary of $111,150 per year.
One’s degree and level of experience will also greatly influence salary. Psychologists with advanced degrees, such as a Ph.D. or a Psy.D. will earn much more than those with only a master’s degree. As well, the more experience one has in the field, the higher the wage they can command.
What Degree is Required for a Cognitive Psychologist?
Some positions in cognitive psychology may only require a bachelor’s degree. These entry-level positions, research assistants, do not involve independent research. Rather, they focus on assisting the lead researcher in collecting and analyzing data.
Bachelor’s degree programs in psychology are extremely popular and widely available.
Generally speaking, an undergraduate psychology program focuses on wide-ranging psychology topics, including statistics, research, psychology of learning, abnormal psychology, and physiological psychology.
More job opportunities are available for individuals that obtain a master’s degree in psychology. These programs typically last at least two years, and in some cases as many as three or four years, depending on the degree requirements.
In cognitive psychology, an emphasis would be placed on conducting research, which would be defended in a thesis presentation.
Master’s degree programs can have a number of emphases as well, including linguistics, neural systems, or cognitive science.
To open up the most job opportunities, cognitive psychologists need to pursue a doctorate. These studies generally last from five to seven years and include intensive research into a particular aspect of cognitive psychology.
It is during doctoral and post-doctoral studies that students develop their research or clinical skills and gain real-world experience in the field. Earning a doctorate is especially critical for individuals that seek to work with clients in a clinical setting. Some states require a Ph.D. or Psy.D.
in order to work with clients, as do some employers, such as hospitals or rehabilitation centers.
Certification as a cognitive psychologist is available through the American Board of Cognitive and Behavioral Psychology.
Various criteria exist, including adequate graduate and post-doctoral training, completion of an acceptable internship program, and experience in the field of cognitive psychology. Individuals who seek to work with clients must be licensed by their state licensing board.
Requirements vary, but typically licensure requires a doctoral degree, passing scores on a written examination, and certain numbers hours of supervised practice.
Become a Cognitive Psychologist
“It’s riding a bike.”
This commonly used phrase indicating that something is easy and natural hides cognitive processes that lie deep within our memories.
Why is it that people will pick up a bike after 10 years and ride as if they never stopped? How did they even come to a decision that they wanted to ride a bike in the first place? What enables you to read and comprehend this sentence?
Cognitive psychologists seek to answer these and other questions about thinking, making decisions, forming language, and observing and encoding information to memory.
To observe these complex processes, cognitive psychologists research and perform experiments that test and measure factors such as reaction time, memory performance, word choice and selection.
Using this information, they gain a deeper understanding of how the brain stores information, and what events trigger the retrieval and use of that information.
Cognitive Psychology and Memory
One of the core areas that cognitive psychologists focus on is memory. Memory plays a factor in nearly all cognitive processes, affecting how people learn, create, use language, read, write, and interact with others.
According to the book “Cognitive Psychology” by Robert J. Sternberg, memory is split into three stages of processing.
In the first stage, the brain receives sensory information and encodes it into representations. During the second stage, the brain stores that information into either short or long-term memory. The final stage, retrieval, occurs when a person needs to gain access to that memory, and uses it to, for example, remember a certain date.
Cognitive psychologists generally examine two major types of cognitive processes: implicit processes and explicit processes. Implicit processes take place automatically and without much cognitive effort. For example, remembering how to ride a bike or use a pencil.
Explicit processes require more effort, and include remembering specific dates from the past, or knowing the word “salt” and remembering what it tastes .
For more information on the basic memory and information processing system, see Cognitive Psychology.
But before information is bound to memory and introduced into cognitive processes, the brain must separate the important information from the information that acts as “noise.”
Today, it’s hard to walk down the street without becoming distracted.
Billboards, advertisements, blaring music, people talking on phones, and store owners selling their wares all contribute to the wall of noise hitting the brain’s cognitive processes. Who hasn’t entered a room only to become distracted and forget why they entered in the first place?
Observing how the brain attends to certain bits of information rather than others is a large part of how cognitive psychologists gain information about thought processes.
For example, the article “Music While You Work: The Differential Distraction of Background Music on Cognitive Test Performance of Introverts and Extraverts” looked at how background music sometimes distracts those from learning and comprehending information.
The article, published in Applied Cognitive Psychology and written by researchers Adrian Furnham and Anna Bradley, examined 10 extraverts and 10 introverts to see how their study habits were affected by playing music.
Furnham and Bradley found the introverts tended to study and work without music, while extraverts were more used to studying and working with music. The researchers gave the participants two tests: a reading comprehension test; and a picture memory test where participants memorized pictures for two minutes and attempted to list all of the pictures after a 6-minute interval.
Participants completed each test either in silence, or while exposed to pop music. The researchers found that introverts did much more poorly in general when listening to music compared to extraverts, or compared to introverts who took the tests in silence.
Both groups performed poorly on the reading comprehension test while listening to music, suggesting that the cognitive processes that factor into reading and writing become hampered by the addition of too many stimuli.
These kinds of discoveries have effects that reach beyond the field of Cognitive Psychology. In the educational field, these discoveries help teachers and tutors advise students on study habits to help them increase productivity.
And for cognitive psychologists, these findings help them to understand what the brain attends to and what it ignores.
Encoding Stimuli to Memory
When looking at a cup of fresh coffee, a person will know it’s hot. This person knows it’s hot because, in the past, he or she drank hot coffee in similar cups. The person also knows it’s hot because of the steam rising from it.
The observation of the steam, combined with long-term memory of drinking hot coffee, causes the person to carefully sip the coffee instead of quickly drinking it.
The person knows hot coffee will burn his or her tongue, but they also know that when steam rises from something, it means it’s hot.
This simple process of drinking coffee draws from memory systems and observations that take place over the course of milliseconds. The person unconsciously knows the coffee is hot, and is automatically cautious around it.
Though the observation of steam and memories of past coffee consumption worked together to conclude the coffee was hot, these two memories actually come from two different systems: a slow-learning system; and a fast-learning system.
In “Dual-Process Models in Social and Cognitive Psychology: Conceptual Integration and Links to Underlying Memory Systems,” published in The Personality and Social Psychology Review, researchers describe how people use these memory systems to reach conclusions.
In the article, researchers Eliot R.
Smith and Jamie DeCoster state that the slow-learning system, also called the associative processing mode, is an automatic process that occurs after someone accumulates a large amount of experience – such as repeatedly drinking hot coffee.
Through the associative processing mode, people know from numerous experiences that coffee is hot. They might have spilled coffee on themselves at one point and gotten burned, or they remember the feeling of the warm cup in their hands. The fast-learning system, or the rule-based processing mode, is facts, or rules that are learned.
For example, in the past someone might have said, “Steam only occurs when something is hot,” and from that rule, someone looking at steam rising from a cup of coffee knows it’s hot, even if they’ve never tried drinking coffee.
Encoding this knowledge means that it doesn’t accumulate over time from associations. This is also helpful when analyzing arguments or making decisions. For instance, a world-renowned economist might write an article in a newspaper making a bold claim.
Many people, through associative processing, would assume that because this person is an expert, the information must be true.
However, rule-based processing requires someone to be more analytical. When someone examines the information thoroughly through rule-based processing, he or she might discover that the facts are actually false, despite the “expert” status.
Observing and Researching Cognition
Cognitive psychologists focus on researching and examining the human thought process. In order to fully gain insight into the brain and cognition, they must gain expert knowledge on these processes through empirically based research.
Cognitive psychology is a relatively new field of psychology, and researchers are learning more about how humans think and use thoughts in everyday life. If you’re interested in a career of researching complex thought processes, request information from schools providing degree programs in cognitive psychology.
One of the most impressive feats of humankind is the creation of language.
By using words as symbols to communicate, humans have learned to share ideas, thoughts, and feelings with each other. And the complex processes that guide language are deeply related to memory and the information-processing system people use each day.
And as human’s age, their cognitive systems and memories begin to falter.
Where once it was easy to remember a certain date or task, older adults have difficulty recalling them. But fortunately, most older adults seem to retain the same level of language comprehension as they did when they were younger.
According to “Memory, Language, and Ageing,” published in The Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society, language is engrained in semantic memory – a memory system that concerns itself with knowledge learned over time.
In the article, researcher Deborah M. Burke states that semantic memory is largely unimpaired in old age compared to other memory systems. Burke says the most popular method of measuring language processing in semantic memory is the semantic priming paradigm.
Semantic priming refers to the amount of time it takes to identify a target word when it follows a related word. For example, if people read the word “nurse,” they are more ly to say the target word “doctor” than if the priming word was “table.”
Burke says that when it comes to semantic priming, older adults retain the same speed and ease of language comprehension as younger adults. In another example of priming, older adults were required to read a sentence and write down the property of the target word.
For example, the sentence “The oranges rolled off the uneven table” elicited the response “oranges (target word) – round (property). If participants had answered “oranges – juicy,” the response, while technically correct, makes the wrong association.
So when it comes to language comprehension, older adults perform just as capably as their younger counterparts. However, language production is a different case.
Burke notes that older adults typically have more difficulty producing words they already know. This is often known as the “tip of the tongue” state. In this state, someone will know the meaning of a word, but won’t be able to place it. Burke says that while all people experience this once in a while, older adults show it with more frequency.
Cognitive psychologists are continuing to research why this effect occurs, digging deeper into memory systems to find ways to fight this occurrence.
How to Become a Cognitive Psychologist
The brain is an amazing thing. many amazing things, it is also quite complex. It can process information and data; store and recall information and data; and influence how we behave and feel. All of these tasks are often done simultaneously, or at least within milliseconds of each other.
Cognitive psychology is meant to help us try to understand the human thought process and how we acquire, process, and store information. Professionals in this branch of psychology study a number of mental processes. A few of the most common — and important — mental processes that cognitive psychologists study include memory, perception, and learning.
Memory is the ability to recall certain bits of information that were acquired in the past. Our memory helps us in learning, speaking, and interaction. Because of this, memory is also one of the most studied areas in cognitive psychology.
Perception is another area of the human mind that cognitive psychologists study frequently. The term perception refers to the way that each of us see the world, and why we have these particular views. Cognitive psychologists that study perception often have a better understanding of predicting future behavior in certain types of people.
The term «cognitive psychology» was coined by Ulric Neisser, an American psychologist working at Cornell University. His book, Cognitive Psychology, was published in 1967, and it remains one of the most influential books in this particular area of psychology.
Why Do We Need Cognitive Psychologists?
In short, the work of cognitive psychologists can help some people overcome their disabilities.
Take memories, for instance. Most of us don't usually think to be thankful for the memories that we have. They're just there. They've always been there. What if you lost your memory? What then? Would you be upset? Would you be upset? Frustrated?
Of course you would! Problems with memories can translate to problems in life in general. As mentioned above, memory affects a number of different cognitive processes. Without a good memory, we would be unable to read, write, or even speak well. It would also be hard for us to remember our friends' birthdays, or even faces.
Through their research, cognitive psychologists have discovered several different ways for a person to improve their memory. This can help with social, language, and learning skills. Learning disabilities, for example, can often be overcome with the help of a cognitive psychologist.
What Are the Education Requirements to Become a Cognitive Psychologist?
As with other psychology careers, a four year Bachelor's degree is usually the necessary starting point of a cognitive psychology career.
While earning psychology degrees, students will often take several different types of psychology courses, such as abnormal and developmental psychology.
Courses on research strategies and statistics are also usually recommended, and often required.
Once a student has earned an undergraduate degree in psychology, he can then start working toward more advanced degrees.
A handful of psychologists stop their education after earning their Master's degrees, but most continue their education in order to earn their Doctorate degrees.
If you are serious about becoming a cognitive psychologist you can request information from schools in your area via our Find a School Page.
What Does a Cognitive Psychologist Do?
In general, a cognitive psychologist will spend most of his career researching cognition, or the human thought process. More specifically, most cognitive psychologists will usually choose one particular thought process to specialize in. For example, a cognitive psychologist might focus on memory, while another might focus on learning disabilities.
A cognitive psychologist can typically focus on three things: research, treatment, or teaching. Some more ambitious cognitive psychologists, however, will focus on more than one of these areas, such as teaching and research, or research and treatment.
Where Does a Cognitive Psychologist Work?
A cognitive psychologist will often be able to secure employment in a number of different facilities, depending on his specialty.
Cognitive psychologists who focus on research, for instance, can often find work in research facilities and government agencies. Universities and other schools might also hire cognitive psychologists as members of the faculty.
Cognitive psychologists also work at treatment facilities, hospitals and mental health clinics.
Cognitive psychologists can also choose to open their own practices as well. In doing so, they can focus on several different tasks. They might be able to focus on analyzing or treating patients, for example. Some cognitive psychologists might also work as consultants or expert witnesses for court cases.
What Is the Median Annual Salary of a Cognitive Psychologist?
While salaries for cognitive psychologists are hard to pinpoint because they vary according to their specialty, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports a median salary of $101,790 for these professionals, categorizing them as “psychologists, all other.”
The BLS provides average salaries according to the settings in which they typically work, which include research, government, and academia:
- Federal government: $94,670
- State government: $104,280
- Colleges, universities, and professional schools: $85,000
- Specialty hospitals: $92,610
- General medical and surgical hospitals: $92,560
- Management, scientific, and technical consulting services: $115,360