The field of cognitive psychology is all about the idea that if we want to know why people think, feel and behave in certain ways, we need to understand how their mind works from the inside. The word “cognition” means “knowing.” Hence, a cognitive psychologist studies the mental process or act that helps people to acquire knowledge.
As a cognitive psychologist, your role will revolve on studying mental function and the mind. This includes such areas as memory, learning, perception, attention, language, reasoning, decision making and conceptual development. A lot of research on cognitive psychology has already been done, with various psychologists having accomplished research findings that are now accepted as truth. These include Alfred Adler, Abraham Maslow, Albert Bandura, Raymond Cattell and Mamie Phipps Clark to name but a few. As a result, studying cognitive psychology in the modern world focuses more on elaborating and peer reviewing existing theories. Additionally, there is an emphasis on the link between human development and robotic development. The premise is that the human brain is essentially a highly complex computing system. It is also believed that the first fully functional humanoid robots will be developed in close collaboration with cognitive psychologists.
What We Do
A large proportion of cognitive psychologists work in research. Additionally, the newly emerging field of industrial and organizational psychology is also gaining in popularity with these psychologists. Others prefer to work as teachers or lecturers, influencing the next generation of psychologists. Some jobs that can be done by cognitive psychologists include:
- Industrial organizational psychologist
- Human factors psychologist
- University lecturer
- Software development specialist
Why It’s Hot
Cognitive psychology is an incredibly important part of the overall discipline of psychology. Many graduates focus specifically on research, developing new theories, methods of assessment and treatment options. As such, their works influence the field of psychology on a global level. Others work in universities, effectively preparing the future generation of psychologists for the job.
Additionally, areas such as industrial organizational psychology, human factors and software application are growing very quickly as well. This means that there is a lot of work to be found in emerging fields and disciplines. Furthermore, it allows professionals to put their own stamp on things.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not recognize a separate category for cognitive psychologists. Rather, they are placed in the category of general psychologists. The information provided by the BLS shows just wht this is such a hot career:
- The average salary for all psychologists was $69,280 per year in 2012.
- Job growth was at the national average at 12%. However, growth rates for industrial organizational psychologists in particular is much higher.
- It is expected that a total of 18,700 jobs will be added between 2012and 2022, the majority of which will be industrial organizational psychologists.
Cognitive psychologists can work in a large variety of different facilities. They will usually specialize in a certain field during their educational pathway, which will determine where they will get to work. For instance, those who have a research specialty will work in government agencies or research facilities. Those who work as educators can find jobs at universities and colleges. Alternatively, they can offer psychological support to students. Indeed, working in treatment facilities is another option, which is why they are found in mental health clinics and hospitals as well.
Cognitive psychologists are also able to open a private practice, where they can complete a variety of different tasks. For instance, they can assess and treat patients. Some work as consultants and there is an increased demand in expert witnesses in legal cases. Because of this huge variety in possible positions, income also varies a lot.
How to Do It
To become a cognitive psychologist, you will need to complete a lengthy education process. It starts with a four year bachelor’s undergraduate degree in psychology or a very closely related field. Following this, you will need to complete a two year master’s degree, where you can choose a cognitive psychology major.
Upon completion of your master’s degree, you will have to choose between the two doctorate options. Completing a Ph.D., which takes around five years, means that you will most likely get to work in research or as a lecturer.. Completing a Psy.D., which usually takes around three years, means you are most likely to get to work in direct care provision. It is advised to choose a program that is accredited by the American Psychological Association, and that you choose one that includes a residency or internship.
This is important because you will also have to complete supervised working experience. Half of this can generally be completed while studying towards your degree, and the other half has to be post grad. Each state has different requirements in terms of length of time and type of work that you can do.
Finally, you will need to pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP), which is administered by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB). This is a 225 multiple choice question test that covers the eight main areas of psychology. You must answer at least 70% of the questions correctly in order to achieve a pass rate. The current cost for this test is $600, although that is subject to change.
Pros & Cons
As with all jobs, there are both advantages and disadvantages to being a cognitive psychologist. The advantages include:
- You can help resolve real world problems, which allow for a great deal of job satisfaction.
- You are able to work for yourself in a private practice or as a consultant or expert witness.
- There are many different career paths to choose from.
- Demand is high and growing.
- The field of industrial organizational psychology in particular is in incredibly high demand.
On the the other hand, there are also some clear disadvantages:
- You need to complete a doctorate degree as well as a number of other specific requirements, which means it can take a long time before you can actually get to work.
- If you work in research, you may feel as if you never complete something and burnout rates are high.
- You cannot help everybody and there will be some people you work with with whom you will never make any progress.
- Most states have their own requirements, which means that you may have to be retested or meet new requirements if you ever move out of state.
There are many different careers you can take part in as a cognitive psychologist. These include:
- Becoming an eyewitness or expert.
- Working on moral development.
- Studying memory, forgetting and selective attention.
- Researching perception.
- Working on child development, including language acquisition.
- Offering cognitive behavioral therapy.
- Working on information processing.
- Developing and researching learning styles.
- Performing cognitive interviews.
- Working in education.
- Studying abnormal behavior.
- American Association of University Women Career Development Grants – Grants of up to $20,000 for those preparing to enter the workforce.
- American Association of University Women Fellowship – Various grants for women studying towards a doctorate degree.
- American Psychological Association, Minority Fellowship Program in Neuroscience – Awards for minority students who are applying for a doctorate degree in neurosciences.
- AT&T Laboratories Fellowship Program – Grants for minority and women students who have shown outstanding qualities.
- Ford Foundation Diversity Fellowships – Grants for certain minority students who are working towards achieving a Ph.D.
- Brain and Cognitive Sciences – A variety of courses in the field of cognitive psychology delivered by MIT.
- Open Yale Courses – Various courses in the field of psychology offered by Yale University.
- Introduction to Cognitive Psychology – offered by the University of Saskatchewan.
- Learning Psychology – A non-credited course offered by the African Virtual University.
- Psychology Fundamentals – A free non-credited courses offered by the University of California, Irvine.
- The Creative Minds Interviews – Various interviews that focus on creativity in the mind and how being sensitive can be beneficial to people.
- The Story of Psychology – A 21 episode podcast delivered by Daniel Todd, PhD from Missouri State University discussing trends in philosophy, religion and culture.
- The Wise Council Podcast – A monthly podcast by David Van Nuys, PhD, addressing a variety of topics on mental health and psychotherapy.
- The Psychology of Attractiveness – Delivered by Robert Burriss, PhD. This monthly podcast looks at psychological issues relating to cheating, jealousy and testosterone.
- 60 Second Mind – A weekly one minute podcast delivered by Scientific American on a variety of different topics.
- Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell.
- Cognitive Psychology: A Student’s Handbook, 7th Edition by Psychology Press, Taylor & Francis Group
- Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
- Redirect by Timothy Wilson
- Drive by Daniel Pink
- The Invisible Gorilla by Chabris and Simon
- Strangers to Ourselves: The Adaptive Unconscious by Timothy Wilson
- Stumbling on Happiness by Dan Gilbert
- Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini
- Brain Rules: 12 Principles For Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School by John Medina