What is Cognitive Psychology?
The term cognitive is derived from the Latin word cognitio which means “knowledge”. The field of cognitive psychology is primarily concerned with how the mind functions. There are various areas of research in which cognitive psychology is interested, including attention, perception, learning processes, memory, decision-making, and language development. At its basis, cognitive psychology is the scientific study of the brain, its abilities, and the interaction between the brain and human behavior.
It is the last part, the interaction between brain processes and behavior, which is of particular interest to cognitive psychology. Studies in this field typically center on becoming better informed about how humans acquire information from the environment and apply that information in order to achieve their goals. Because of its focus on thinking, cognitive psychology usually includes a healthy amount of neuroscience, philosophy, biology, linguistics, and artificial intelligence.
What are the Responsibilities of a Cognitive Psychologist?
The vast majority of cognitive psychologists spend their careers in research. Early on, cognitive psychologists might conduct general research into cognition. However, with time and experience, most psychologists in this field will focus in on a specific cognitive process to investigate, such as memory, childhood learning disabilities, or impairments of speech, and become an expert in that particular field of cognitive research. Research can be conducted in a number of settings, from colleges and universities to government agencies to private research firms.
Teaching is also a popular track for psychologists trained in cognitive research. Many cognitive psychologists in academia teach at the graduate level, working with masters and doctorate students in specific areas of research. Some cognitive psychologists, particularly those just entering the field, may work more with undergraduate students teaching general psychology classes, at least to begin with. Teaching positions require psychologists to not only be experts in the field of cognition, but also carry out normal teaching duties, such as preparing lessons and activities, administering and grading exams, advising students, and conducting independent research for publication in journals.
There are job opportunities for cognitive psychologists in clinical settings as well. Some clinical psychologists operate from a cognitive theoretical perspective, which informs the manner in which they interpret and treat client behaviors. Cognitive psychologists might work in medical or rehabilitative settings as well, working with patients that have cognitive dysfunctions that are related to brain injury, old age, or a developmental issue. In this context, cognitive psychologists carry out their jobs in a manner that is more closely related to clinical psychology. They assess and evaluate clients, interpret their behavior, reflect on past events with clients in a therapeutic setting, and outline a process for treatment and recovery.
Why is Cognitive Psychology Important?
Cognitive psychology emphasizes the role of thought processes in learning and behavior. The foundational premise is that how people process information influences behavior choices. Understanding how people process information and how that affects their behavior is important. From a mental health perspective, awareness of how information is processed becomes important when working with people so that they can understand how their thought processes influence their behavior choices. In turn, they are better able to examine their internal thought processes to determine a course of action.
Understanding thought processes and behavior is not limited to psychotherapy however. Cognitive behavioral principles are used in other areas such as education and advertising. Cognitive processes include speech and language, memory, learning and retention of information. Educators are trained to use various techniques that can complement learning styles or compensate for memory or attention deficits.
Cognitive principles are even used by advertisers. Marketing to people means tapping into what resonates with them and will be most likely to elicit the behavior that companies want, which is buying their product. Millions are spent in market research each year to determine the best way to influence consumer preferences and purchases. The data from that research results in advertising designed to influence consumer buying decisions.
What is the Career Outlook for Cognitive Psychologists?
As a whole, the field of psychology is predicted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to grow at an average rate of 12 percent over the next 6-8 years. However, some disciplines, including cognitive psychology, should experience more robust growth in the coming decade. Part of the reason for expanded growth of cognitive psychology jobs is the continued interest in cognitive health issues for children, such as language development, and issues related to older adults, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, the rapid pace with which research methods and technologies are advancing necessitate qualified individuals to conduct cognitive research.
The job outlook for other applications of cognitive psychology, such as teaching at the collegiate level, will likely remain stable in the years to come. Entry-level teaching positions should be fairly great in number, particularly as psychology programs continue to be offered at the vast majority of colleges and universities. Higher paying faculty positions are more difficult to come by both because they are fewer in number and generally occupied by tenured professors.
How Much Does a Cognitive Psychologist Make?
According to PayScale, psychologists in the United States earn an average salary of $69,268 per year. However, the salary range for psychologists varies widely based on their field of expertise. Cognitive psychologists can expect to earn more money than average, depending upon the industry in which they work. On average, cognitive psychologists working in academics earn $76,090 per year. However, cognitive psychologists working in industrial-organizational settings earn a mean annual salary of $114,040 per year.
One’s degree and level of experience will also greatly influence salary. Psychologists with advanced degrees, such as a Ph.D. or a Psy.D. will earn much more than those with only a master’s degree. As well, the more experience one has in the field, the higher the wage they can command. With less than five years of experience, psychologists can expect to earn a salary in the $62,500 range. However, psychologists with more than 20 years of experience earn over $90,000 per year, on average.
What Degree is Required for a Cognitive Psychologist?
Some positions in cognitive psychology may only require a bachelor’s degree. These entry-level positions, like research assistants, do not involve independent research. Rather, they focus on assisting the lead researcher in collecting and analyzing data. Bachelor’s degree programs in psychology are extremely popular and widely available. Generally speaking, an undergraduate psychology program focuses on wide-ranging psychology topics, including statistics, research, psychology of learning, abnormal psychology, and physiological psychology.
More job opportunities are available for individuals that obtain a master’s degree in psychology. These programs typically last at least two years, and in some cases as many as three or four years, depending on the degree requirements. In cognitive psychology, an emphasis would be placed on conducting research, which would be defended in a thesis presentation. Master’s degree programs can have a number of emphases as well, including linguistics, neural systems, or cognitive science.
To open up the most job opportunities, cognitive psychologists need to pursue a doctorate. These studies generally last from five to seven years and include intensive research into a particular aspect of cognitive psychology. It is during doctoral and post-doctoral studies that students develop their research or clinical skills and gain real-world experience in the field. Earning a doctorate is especially critical for individuals that seek to work with clients in a clinical setting. Some states require a Ph.D. or Psy.D. in order to work with clients, as do some employers, such as hospitals or rehabilitation centers.
Certification as a cognitive psychologist is available through the American Board of Cognitive and Behavioral Psychology. Various criteria exist, including adequate graduate and post-doctoral training, completion of an acceptable internship program, and experience in the field of cognitive psychology. Individuals who seek to work with clients must be licensed by their state licensing board. Requirements vary, but typically licensure requires a doctoral degree, passing scores on a written examination, and certain numbers hours of supervised practice.
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