Cognitive Psychologist Career (Salary + Duties + Interviews)

Interested in a cognitive psychologist career? This page will answer all of your questions!

Why do we remember moments in time from our childhood, but can’t seem to remember crucial information for a college test? Why do our friends remember an incident one way, but we remember it a different way? These questions don’t always have quick answers, but they can be explained by certain concepts in cognitive psychology. Cognitive psychology is a branch of psychology that looks specifically at the processes within the mind: memory storage and retrieval, how our senses perceive the world around us, and how our memories shape what we “know” and how we behave. 

This is a fascinating area of psychology – one that advertisers, healthcare companies, and other organizations want to learn more about. But it is also one that sparks as many questions as it does answers. Cognitive psychologists have the fascinating job of learning, understanding, and sharing information about cognitive psychology. 

What does a Cognitive Psychologist Do?

Cognitive psychologists study and share information on different cognitive processes and how they influence personality and behavior. They focus specifically on memory, learning, language, and other cognitive tasks. Through a variety of job positions and partnerships, cognitive psychologists increase awareness of this field of psychology.

Not all cognitive psychologists hold the job title “Cognitive Psychologist.” They might hold a job as a research assistant studying theories within cognitive psychology. They might use their knowledge of cognitive psychology to work directly with patients who have learning difficulties or memory loss issues. Cognitive psychologists may also work directly with businesses to educate them on how the minds of their employees or customers work and how each group makes different decisions. 

The common thread amongst all these jobs is that the cognitive psychologist has expertise in this area of psychology.

What is Cognitive Psychology?

The American Psychological Association defines cognitive psychology as “the branch of psychology that explores the operation of mental processes related to perceiving, attending, thinking, language, and memory, mainly through inferences from behavior. The cognitive approach, which developed in the 1940s and 1950s, diverged sharply from contemporary behaviorism in (a) emphasizing unseen knowledge processes instead of directly observable behaviors and (b) arguing that the relationship between stimulus and response was complex and mediated rather than simple and direct. Its concentration on the higher mental processes also contrasted with the focus on instincts and other unconscious forces typical of psychoanalysis. More recently, cognitive psychology has been influenced by approaches to information processing and information theory developed in computer science and artificial intelligence.”

Job Requirements

In order to be recognized as a cognitive psychologist, you must earn a doctorate degree from an accredited university. Plenty of colleges and universities offer graduate programs in cognitive psychology. This field is more popular and “modern” than other fields like psychoanalysis or behaviorism, so finding the right program for you requires sifting through programs instead of searching for professors or institutions that recognize it. 

If you want to practice as a Cognitive Therapist, you will likely have to earn a certification through the American Board of Professional Psychology. This certification requires that you complete an exam, an internship, and hold a doctoral degree in the area in which you want to be certified. 

Research assistant jobs may only require an undergraduate degree, but these positions are typically short-term and are considered stepping stones to a more sustainable career working in healthcare, consulting, or government agencies. 

Salary for Cognitive Psychologist Career

How much do cognitive psychologists make? Salaries vary because cognitive psychologists take on many roles in society. The Bureau of Labor Statistics, for example, limited its data collection to “substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors.” These counselors often use Cognitive Therapy or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) in their treatments. Other salary statistics consider the wages of psychologists who work as a consultant or with businesses – these salaries tend to be a little higher. 

Cognitive Psychologist Reported Salary




Bureau of Labor Statistics








Schools for Cognitive Psychology Degrees

Want to go to the best of the best schools for cognitive psychology? Make sure you have these schools on your radar. You can study cognitive psychology all around the country. 

  • Stanford University (Stanford, CA) 
  • University of California – Berkeley (Berkeley, CA) 
  • Harvard University (Cambridge, MA) 
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, MA) 
  • Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, PA)
  • Yale University (New Haven, CT) 
  • University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign (Champaign, IL) 
  • The University of Indiana – Bloomington (Bloomington, IN) 
  • University of California – San Diego (La Jolla, CA)
  • The University of Michigan – Ann Arbor (Ann Arbor, MI)

Companies That Hire Cognitive Psychologists

As you study cognitive psychology, work on different research projects, and network within your field, you may get a better idea of who you want to work with on a daily basis. Where can a cognitive psychologist work? A lot of places! Maybe you do not want to treat patients directly – you would prefer doing research or teaching at a local university. Or, you want to work at a healthcare company instead of running your own private practice. As a cognitive psychologist, you might find yourself working for: 

  • Healthcare companies
  • Government agencies
  • Research facilities 
  • Colleges and universities
  • Consulting firms 

The possibilities are endless!

Interviews from a Cognitive Psychologist

Interested in learning more about cognitive psychology? Take a listen to the people who engage with this field every day! YouTube has plenty of interviews with cognitive psychologists covering topics from CBT to having a career in psychology to specific topics (like this TED Talk on “what we don’t see”).

Take a look into the day in the life of a cognitive behavioral therapist by watching this YouTube video from Kelly Watkins.

Learn about the road to a career in cognitive psychology by watching the Psi Beta National Honor Society President interview Dr. Julie Madden, a professor at The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

And lastly, hear a cognitive psychologist’s take on clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life. Not all psychologists see things the same way! 

Famous Cognitive Psychologists

Cognitive psychologists have shaped the way that we understand learning, memory, and other cognitive processes. We know what we know about the brain thanks to these notable figures in psychology! 

Jerome Bruner was one of the first psychologists to recognize the importance of sensation and perception in how we see the world and how our experiences may differ from the people around us. 

Jean Piaget was a pioneer in cognitive psychology. His Four Stages of Cognitive Development explained how children grew from infants to adolescents, gaining new skills and looking at the world through a more developed lens. 

Albert Bandura created experiments like the Bobo Doll Experiment to demonstrate how children learn through observation. 

Daniel Kahneman developed one of the latest theories on how we process information, the two-system theory. You can read about this theory in his best-selling book Thinking Fast and Slow. 

Nancy Kanwisher is a cognitive psychologist who identified different regions of the brain and how they process information. One of her notable achievements is recognizing the fusiform face area, which recognizes different faces. 

How Did Cognitive Psychology Start?

Cognitive psychologists see psychology (and patients) differently than the behavioral psychologists or psychoanalysts of yesterday. Compared to some other forms of psychology, cognitive psychology is relatively new. But that does not mean that a cognitive psychologist career is any harder or easier than another career in psychology. It’s just a different approach.

In the 1950s, behavioral psychology was the dominant school of thought in psychology. Psychologists looked at the way our behaviors shaped our personalities. Think about psychologists like B.F. Skinner or Ivan Pavlov. This approach to psychology was at its peak…and then Ulric Neisser came along.

Ulric Neisser studied at Harvard University and Swarthmore College. He worked with some of the greatest psychologists at the time, including one of the founders of Gestalt psychology. Gestalt psychology is another field of psychology that challenged behaviorism and considered how thinking and cognition factored into behaviors. When Neisser went to Harvard for his doctorate, he studied “experimental psychology.” After further research, mainly focused on thought, memory, and perception, he published “Cognitive Psychology.” To this day, he is considered the father of cognitive psychology.

Is Cognitive Psychology a Science?

Yes! Cognitive psychology is a scientific approach within the world of psychology. Some scholars equate cognitive psychology to cognitive science. APA’s definition of cognitive science is “an interdisciplinary approach to understanding the mind and mental processes that combines aspects of cognitive psychology, philosophy of mind, epistemology, neuroscience, anthropology, psycholinguistics, and computer science.”

Cognitive Psychology Examples

Not all cognitive psychologists focus on the same subjects, although they all tie back to memory, perception, and language. If you work toward a career in cognitive psychology, you might just find yourself: 

  1. Conducting research on language acquisition
  2. Working directly with Alzheimer’s and dementia patients to slow regression
  3. Teaching cognitive psychology courses at the undergraduate level
  4. Giving presentations to businesses on perception and memory
  5. Developing assessments to better understand how information is remembered and stored in the brain

Resources for Researching a Cognitive Psychologist Career

Do you still have questions about what it’s like to be a cognitive psychologist? Reach out to cognitive psychologists and people who have experience in this field! There are many ways to go about connecting with cognitive psychologists.

Audit Cognitive Psychology Classes. Are you in college or do you live near a university? Research cognitive psychology programs and the people who teach them. You may be able to audit a cognitive psychology class and get a sense of the subjects you will learn as a cognitive psychology major.

Stanford University, for example, offers the following classes in their cognitive psychology program:

  • Cognitive Neuroscience: Vision
  • Minds and Machines
  • Psychology of the Climate Crisis
  • Statistical Methods for Behavioral and Social Sciences
  • Introduction to Perception

Do these classes interest you? Find similar classes near you that you can audit!

Ask Questions in Online Forums. Even if you don’t live near a university or don’t know cognitive psychologists, the Internet gives you access to so many people! The CognitivePsychology and CognitivePsychologist subreddits, for example, are very active. Read through conversations with people interested in cognitive psychology and ask questions to cognitive psychologists!

Talk to Admissions Counselors and Other Resources. If you’re still in high school or undergrad, reach out to your counselors. They can connect you with cognitive psychologists and other resources that will help you. Parents, family friends, and other networking events can also point you in the right place. If you are interested in a cognitive psychologist career, make it known! The more people know that you are interested in the subject, the more likely they will connect you with someone who will make your career dreams a reality.

Practical Psychology

Practical Psychology began as a collection of study material for psychology students in 2016, created by a student in the field. It has since evolved into an online blog and YouTube channel providing mental health advice, tools, and academic support to individuals from all backgrounds. With over 2 million YouTube subscribers, over 500 articles, and an annual reach of almost 12 million students, it has become one of the most popular sources of psychological information.

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