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. Learn more about what a cognitive psychologist does, how they see the world of psychology, and how you can get started on a path toward a career in 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.
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 for government agencies.
Salaries vary because cognitive psychologists take on many roles in society. The Bureau of Labor Statistics, for example, limited their 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. 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 teh 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.
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:
- Conducting research on language acquisition
- Working directly with Alzheimer’s and dementia patients to slow regression
- Teaching cognitive psychology courses at the undergraduate level
- Giving presentations to businesses on perception and memory
- Developing assessments to better understand how information is remembered and stored in the brain