Cognitive psychology topics for your research paper

One growing area of psychology is cognitive psychology, the study of mental processes, such as memory, perception, learning, language, problem solving and creativity. Some good research paper topics could be to provide a cognitive psychology definition with its related disciplines and to discuss trends in cognitive psychology.

For your psychology class, look into researching cognitive psychology. (Credit: NIU.edu)

For your psychology class, look into researching cognitive psychology. (Credit: NIU.edu)

For your term paper you could also explain practical applications of cognitive psychology and describe possible career paths for people with degrees in cognitive psychology.

What is cognitive psychology?

Surprisingly, the term “cognitive psychology” wasn’t coined until 1967 by German-American psychologist Ulric Neisser, a scholar of perception and memory. Neisser was later famous for conducting studies on memory reconstruction after the traumatic events of the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger explosion and the 1989 California earthquake.

Cognitive psychology studies how the brain links stimulus (input) and response (output) and the mental processes involved in how the brain acquires and processes knowledge. Cognitive psychology encompasses many disciplines and fields of study such as philosophy, neuroscience, medicine, education, linguistics and business. Practical applications for cognitive psychology are numerous and include boosting memory, learning and recall; improving the quality of decision-making; developing educational curricula; improving task requirements during training; and building computer systems that model human memory and thought.

Trends in cognitive psychology

A good topic for your term paper is new developments in cognitive psychology. In his paper “What’s New in Cognitive Science?” posted December 20, 2011, on Psychology Today, Professor Paul Thagard at the University of Waterloo in Ontario explained that one major trend is greater appreciation of the social dimensions of cognition. “Psychology and anthropology have increasingly shown ways in which human thinking is affected by the interactions that people have with others in the culture they share. These interactions depend on biological mechanisms such as the generation and transmission of emotions, but social changes also produce biological changes,” said Thagard.

He offers the example of when someone is a bully toward you, you produce more of the stress hormone cortisol in your blood stream. “Cognitive science needs to be able to integrate increased understanding of the social context of thinking with understanding of neural mechanisms,” Thagard said.

Cognitive psychology helps dementia patients

You could also write about applications of cognitive psychology for your research paper. As our population ages, scientists of all stripes are trying to understand and treat the rising cases of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia. The New England Cognitive Center (NECC) in New London, Connecticut, has developed a suite of cognitive fitness programs for dementia patients. Blending gerontology, psychology, neuropsychology and education, the programs use principles such as practice, reinforcement, graduated challenge and cooperative learning to offer patients mental workouts that stimulate six cognitive areas of the brain. Activities involve reaction time, visual-spatial acuity, attention, concentration, memory, language and problem-solving. After the program, many patients maintain mental functioning at their current level for months with little or no deterioration.

NECC executive director Patti Celori Said remarked in “Yes, We Can! Innovative Cognitive Programs Help Dementia Patients Improve Brain Function,” in Aging Today, July/August 2013: “Folks come in with this terrible diagnosis and depression sets in and then it’s a downward spiral, from ‘give me your keys’ to ‘you can’t live here anymore.’ What happens with the programs is [those with dementia] see they can still do things. We’re building on strengths they have and holding onto skills that remain.”

Careers for cognitive psychologists

“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,” explained a writer in “Career as a Cognitive Psychologist” on the Careers in Psychology website.

Depending on the specialty you choose, you could work in research facilities, government agencies, university faculty and treatment facilities such as hospitals and mental health clinics. Other cognitive psychologists have their own practices where they analyze and treat patients. Another option is as a consultant or expert witness for court cases, noted the writer.

Check out Questia’s library on Cognitive Psychology for more information. 

What other areas of cognitive psychology would make a good term paper?

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