Cognitive psychology, neuroscience and social change

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Cognitive psychology is a special field of psychology that studies the mental processes of humans and animals in order to understand the structure and the functions of the brain and how it influences cognition and behavior. Cognitive psychology is the marriage of psychology and physiology. It studies the physiology behind perception, consciousness, language, memory, learning and other behaviors which are basically related to bodily processes. One of the distinguishing factors that identify cognitive psychology is its approach to the study of mental processes and behavior, it assumes that every behavior is controlled by the brain, thus attention, consciousness, sleeping, memory and others are manifested due to neural activity in the brain however it lacked the precise understanding of what the brain actually did (Rosenzweig, Breedlove. & Leiman, 2002). Neuroscience or the highly specialized field of studying the brain has been a core component in cognitive psychology. The technology that neuroscience uses to study the brain and its structure and functions have led to a greater understanding the origins of human behavior, for example, through the fMRI psychologists have identified which parts of the brain are responsible for memory or language. It provided cognitive psychology with the science of the brain from a biological perspective. Thus, a cognitive psychologist would have to become acquainted and well-versed with neuroscience concepts and methods. Cognition in itself pertains to mental processes and this in turn is brought about by the brain’s activity, hence to study cognition one must also study the brain. The techniques employed by neuroscience in the study of the brain have given psychologists the opportunity to establish the link between behavior and mental processes and have in some ways ended the debate on which is the rightful object of study of psychology (Rosenzweig, Breedlove. & Leiman, 2002). Since it is now an accepted theory that behavior is largely influenced by the body, the other overt behaviors of man like those that involve groups or social influences can also be studied using the tools of neuroscience and the research approach of cognitive psychology.

Psychology is without a doubt an applied science, hence its goal is to put to good use the knowledge and the techniques derived from the discipline to real life situations. A scholar-practitioner in the field of psychology would find ways to bring the learning in the laboratories to the outside world and cognitive psychologists are not an exception to that. Social change can only be effected if the impetus is provided and the change is accepted by a number of people in the society and as more and more people accept and believe in it, it becomes a social norm and becomes part of one’s culture. Cognitive psychology and neuroscience can contribute to social change by using the advanced tools of neuroscience to study the brain as social behaviors are exhibited (Ochsner & Lieberman, 2001). For example, in order to study how stereotypes and attitude’s are formed, neuroscience identifies that part of the brain that controls perception of faces and the development of mental schemas (Martin & Weisberg, 2003), while cognitive psychology identifies the process involved in how external cues and visual information are encoded into memory. In doing so, scholar-practitioners can be able to design programs and intervention strategies that would help manage stereotypes and to effect attitudinal change.

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Social change does not happen overnight, it takes years and years of effort and initiative and it often dies even before it could lead to change. This is where the scholar-practitioner is most relevant, by being involved in actual practice and research, the scholar practitioner have more ammunition to start social change and he/she could very well start it within his/her professional practice.


Martin, A.& Weisberg, J. (2003). Neural foundations for understanding social

and mechanical concepts. Cognitive Neuropsychology, 20; 3-6, 575-587.

Ochsner, K. & Lieberman, M. (2001). The emergence of social cognitive neuroscience.

American Psychologist, 56; 9,  717-­734.

Rosenzweig, M. Breedlove, S. & Leiman, A. (2002). Biological Psychology: An introduction to

behavioral, cognitive, and clinical neuroscience. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates, Inc.


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