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Cognitive Psychology: Inquiring in Mental Processes

What is cognitive psychology? Who are its main authors? What are its characteristics?  In this article, we will talk about the study of cognitive processes. Discover everything you need to know about cognitive psychology.

Cognitive Psychology

Cognitive Psychology: Definition and Importance

Psychology is a heterogeneous science that explores various issues related to our mind and our behavior. This discipline examines us both socially and individually and involves an immensity of challenges.

These issues are often influenced by the subjectivity that inevitably leads people to study other people. In fact, psychology professionals often have trouble reaching an agreement. Its object of study is complex and changing. Also, their discipline is not an exact science. Psychology is still taking its first steps.

The main objective of psychologists is to make us understand ourselves better and to improve our quality of life. However, they are also influenced by their interests and their way of looking at the world. There are different currents that seek an approach to find the truth from different perspectives. However, we are all different and each person is biased from their own experiences. 

For example, there are different perspectives on what is mental illness. Some experts focus on the observable aspects of behavior, others look for biological causes and some think society is responsible. These dilemmas may confuse us.

Should we worry about this uncertainty?

We shouldn’t take these dilemmas as nonconclusive problems. In fact, it is possible to combine several perspectives and to elaborate new and more explanatory models. These discussions (in the most scientific sense of the word) drive the growth of psychology and bring us closer to the discoveries that allow us to know how cognitive processes work.

Cognitive psychology studies the mental processes related to knowledge. It is linked to artificial intelligence and analyzes psychological processes such as perception, memory, attention, cognitive distortions or learning. 

Cognitive Psychology: Features

Although heterogeneous theories coexist within cognitive psychology, we can observe its main distinctive features.

1. Emphasizes in cognitive processes

Behavior can’t be explained without naming our cognitive processes. These procedures cover a myriad of tasks that we perform in our day to day. For example, memorize the birthdays of our relatives or perceive the typical optical illusions that become viral.

2. The field of study is very complex

It is not easy to study cognitive processes since they are not tangible. In fact, this field has been rejected for years because of its complexity. Nowadays neuroscience allows us to approach cognitive processes in a more scientific and tangible way. Thanks to neuroimaging techniques such as fMRI (Functional MRI) we can see how our brain performs certain tasks such as deciding whether if you prefer coffee or tea. This field has also made it possible for company’s such as CogniFit to measure and train your cognitive skills through specific brain games. 

3. Their sources are scattered and varied

Psychologists focused on emotions, processing information, Gestalt or social psychology all dive into cognitive processes with different goals. This makes their sources very scattered and varied, however, they are enriching for psychology. 

4. Processing capacity is limited

Our ability to pay attention and process information is affected by several factors. It requires a lot of effort to select the most relevant data at any given time. For example, if we go to the supermarket, we can’t see all the boxes of cereal at a time. Therefore, our brain chooses the most visually striking and we focus on that. 

5. Mental processes are organized in a hierarchical way

We face an incredible amount of stimuli (for example the television is on, the telephone rings, the neighbors scream, smoke comes out of the kitchen, we feel like going to the bathroom, our arm itches, etc.) Our brain learns to make priorities and be as efficient as possible. Our brain organizes and controls all the activities we do consciously and much more all at the same time. In fact, we perform activities automatically (walking) and others in a controlled way (adding an event on our agenda). There are tasks that we can carry out simultaneously (detect different elements in the street) and others in serial form (to figure out a mathematical problem). This can only be achieved hierarchically.

6. People understand reality in different ways

We all carry out complex actions through our mental processes. That is, we can memorize data, organize information, have expectations about what we want in the future and countless activities that happen in our brain to adapt to the environment.

However, we are not mechanical robots. The environment and other people influence us. Nonetheless, we make our own decisions, defend our ideology and come to different conclusions while maintaining our own arguments. We make complex judgments and comparisons that are reflected in the great interindividual variability.

For example, a football fan will tend to focus more on any fact related to his team, especially if it is positive. We act based on the information that is accessible to us, our goals, feelings, prejudices and a long list of contents that pass through our mind.

Cognitive Psychology: A Little History

Early thinkers such as William James or Wilhelm Wundt, already theorized about cognitive processes such as consciousness. Nonetheless, cognitive psychology emerged in the middle of the last century.

In the 1950s, behaviorism was the main paradigm in this science. This approach is based on observable behavior, often extrapolating results obtained with animals to people and neglecting cognitive processes. Its main goal was to study human behavior in labs where scientific rigor was at its highest. However, it failed to explain human thought process. 

On the other hand, psychoanalysis was the other mainstream perspective. It focused on the subconscious and childhood development. Both perspectives set aside mental processes. 

The cognitive revolution

The cognitive revolution brought the fact that the black box, which was the gap between stimuli and behavior could now be opened and explored. Cognitive psychology began to imagine the mind as a computer that processes information through different programs and with certain capacities. This computer metaphor allows us to establish parallels that help us to better visualize the human mind.

However, they do not study all content well, beliefs or expectations are concepts more abstract than the number of elements that we are able to retain. Great strides are now being made from the cognitive perspective and it seems to remain a fundamental approach for psychology to progress.

Cognitive psychology: 10 essential authors and their contributions

Since the last century, there have been several celebrities in this field. Here are a few of the most important authors in the field. 

1. Bartlett

He studied types of memory and memory itself. He observed it in everyday situations and analyzed how we modify it ourselves.

2. Bruner

He was a great developmental psychologist. He focused on how we treat information and learning as a process rather than conceiving it as a final product.

3. Turing

He is the creator of the “Turing machine”, which is an abstract device that simulates human thinking. It serves to create representations that allow investigating cognitive processes.

4. Miller

According to this psychologist, the working memory may contain more or less seven information sequences. However, we can group the data to retain more elements. He wrote the cognitive manifesto called Plans and the Structure of Behavior (1960).

5. Festinger

He is the author of the theory of cognitive dissonance, which describes how important it is for us to maintain our beliefs, the processes we carry out to preserve them and how complex it is to change them.

6. Broadbent

This cognitive psychologist maintained that our attention processes data serially. 

7. Neisser

He coined the term “cognitive psychology”.

8. Gestalt Psychologists

“The whole is more than the sum of its parts.”

That is, our mind perceives reality through our senses and gives rise to a new interpretation through perception.

9. Shannon and Weaver

They developed a famous mathematical model that collects the main elements of the communicative process.

10. Chomsky

His main contribution to the field of cognitive psychology was through linguistics. 

Cognitive Psychology Applications

We apply cognitive psychology in almost every aspect of our lives. 

Basic research

Basic psychological processes, such as motivation and perception, are the main area cognitive psychology is applied to. Subsequently, the data obtained is integrated into programs to improve our quality of life.


According to this approach, our thoughts and emotions have a significant impact on our mental health. For example, interpreting negatively every comment they make how we look could lead to an eating disorder.

Cognitive Therapy

Making our thoughts more positive or reducing our cognitive distortions or cognitive biases is the main contribution of this perspective. 

Developmental psychology

Through the study of topics such as the theory of mind, we come to better understand interpersonal relationships and our progress as we grow.

Social psychology

Cognitive psychology helps us to understand how our prejudices (however harmful they may be at times) enable us to reduce the amount of data we have to process since we take information for granted and do not analyze it.


All basic psychological processes are elementary when it comes to talking about training. Cognitive psychology has given us Bandura’s theory of social learning, which contrasts with the mechanical explanations of behaviorists. Understanding how we assimilate knowledge or how we perceive external stimuli is dispensable to provide an education to society.

Artificial intelligence

Knowing how the human mind works is the key to developing the technology of the future. Amazing discoveries are being made in this field. The advance of artificial intelligence requires that its professionals work with a great responsibility, but also its technological advances have the capacity of improving our lives.

Daily life

Their contributions allow us to control better our thoughts and cognitive processes as well as infer the causes of other’s behavior. We can use cognitive psychology to simplify our day to day. For example, after learning that we retain approximately seven elements in our working memory (Miller) and that we can memorize more when grouping, we can take this data into account to draw more effective studying strategies.

Thank you very much for reading this article. What do you think about cognitive psychology? We invite you to comment below.

This article is originally in Spanish written by Ainhoa Arranz Aldana, translated by Alejandra Salazar.

Human Brain Project: What is it and how it’s a research innovation

Assembly of The Human Brain Project has a goal to unravel what lies within the intricately woven network that still remains a secret. Humans are always interested in discovering the unknown, solving puzzles and riddles and unraveling century-old questions. We have gone deep underwater in search for ancient civilizations and explored time-worn ruins from top to bottom in order to find the answers we so desperately seek. To this day, however, the biggest mystery that we have found is ourselves and what makes us human. The central core of the enigma that we are facing is the brain. The brain is the most puzzling, peculiar and unexplained creation that we have come so far managed to come across. Continue reading to find out more about the human brain project. 

Human Brain Project

What Is The Human Brain Project?

The Human Brain Project is a research initiative that started in 2013 and will continue for ten years. It hopes to uncover the challenge that is understanding the brain and all its functions, pathways and networks. The Human Brain Project will do so by combining and compiling the efforts from the leading scientists from the three major disciplines. By using the three disciplines it will attempt to encompass all that is the brain. It aims for a collaboration and integration between the fields of medicine related to the brain, neuroscience, and computing. This collaboration within the variety of different specialties is set to develop new insights into various neurological disorders and diseases. The initiative plans to come up with new solutions for treatment and to manufacture novel ingenious technologies. The researchers will use these new developments to study the brain.

The Human Brain Project: Neuroscience, Medicine, and Computing

Medicine and biomedical research initiative will look into neurological diseases and research into earlier diagnosis and prevention of the diseases. They will try to create individualized treatment and therapeutic techniques. All of this will allow for a faster and more efficient manufacturing of drugs. This will potentially lead to making drug discovery more cost-efficient.

Various neuroimaging techniques that scientists use in neuroscience are able to come with a vast pool of experimental data. Further research will use this data for future progress with the knowledge of the network. Both, invasive and non-invasive tools that differ in spatial and temporal resolutions attempt to provide a fuller picture of the brain both, anatomically and functionally. These tools include electroencephalography (EEG), intracranial EEG, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) etc.

Researchers will then process and analyze all of the neuroimaging obtained data. They will then be able to draw clear and concise conclusions that are statistically significant and relevant for further research. That’s where computing can come in with the variety of different programming languages. Programming languages will help guide the analysis of the data in a step-by-step way in an approachable fashion.

Computing also works in order to develop new ways of brain imaging and stimulation. It optimizes the ones that are already available on the market. It will also create computational and theoretical models that explain various time and spatial events in the brain. Computer specialists are also looking into possibilities of creating artificial intelligence programs. Intelligent programs could be able to mimic the functions of the brain.

The Human Brain Project – Goals and Objectives

Implementing clear and concise goals will help guarantee success. Collaboration between medicine, neuroscience, and computing will help to accomplish that. The Human Brain Project aims to create advanced information communication technologies that are able to lift the curtain to not only comprehend the human brain but to be able to stimulate it. This stimulation needs to be as painless, easy and side effect free, as possible.

Main Objectives

  1. Create and design a way to arrange, synthesize and analyze experimental brain data and learn to develop models based on this data. Comprehend both human and nonhuman brains at every level. Start from the genetic components and move on to cognitive makeup and resulting in conscious and unconscious behavior.
  2. Analyze the experimental data via the use of created technologies. Understand the mathematical and psychophysical assumptions and criteria that govern the connections amid various levels of brain organization. Try to understand the functions that these connections play in the brain’s ability to gather, express and collect information. Develop a technology that is able to visualize this data. Allow for creation of online models and reciprocate simulation.
  3. Develop information communication technologies that are useful for researchers in the field of biomedicine, computing, and neuroscience. Provide a platform for creating new technologies associated with artificial intelligence that is useful for understanding and stimulating the brain.
  4. Create new example bioinformatics tools. Immediately use them for pharmacological research and diagnostic criteria for various neurological diseases, online simulations of the disease action. Progress with understanding the newly created tools. Learn about protein on protein docking and interactions and subsequent drug effects to different brain disorders.

Models for brain research

Mice models

These objectives also contain mini-objectives for specific goals and guidelines for research projects and future collaborations. Neuroscience will look at projects in regarding with building a multi-layered model of the mouse brain structure. Various up-to-date scientific studies showed that mice models are some of the most useful models to apply to the rest of the mammal population, including humans.

Due to this, it is important to look at the structure and functional capabilities of mice in order to see how certain neurological diseases are able to develop and progress in their brain. This can help with knowing how certain drugs and protein interactions will work in combination with the disease. Drug interactions will then help to speculate and make an accurate prediction of how the disease will work in the human brain.

Creating a mice model will allow a prototype for the future study of the human brain and a guideline for further research. Using various tools can help with progress, including non-invasive and invasive neuroimaging techniques and in vitro and in vivo studies with neuronal mice cells.

Human models

Scientists also have to create a similar multi-layered model of the human brain. They will have to pool the information from the experimental data that they had gathered. Apart from that scientists will need to use the data they are working with at the moment. In the end, the researchers will be able to create a holistic model of the whole human brain. Again, they can do so by using various methods for this particular goal.

Apart from creating the model of the human brain, researchers have to look into understanding the link between the anatomical structures and the various functions that the brain displays. They need to start measuring spiking activities (action potentials) and relationships between different neurons. This will help with searching for some specific neurons with very specific functions (e.g. the grandmother cells) or networks of neurons responsible for similar functions.

Theoretical and computational tools

Researchers can then use various theoretical and computational models in order to hypothesize and speculate about the actions of these neurons. We need to be able to know exactly what happens on the neuronal level. That will allow us to understand the internal cognition and the external behavior that can happen as a result of this spiking activity.

In order to gain this insight into the brain scientists will implement these objectives. They will include the collaborative and ongoing use of all of the techniques available on-hand and feedback and forward communication between the various disciplines. Surprisingly enough, this mirrors the feedback and the feedforward way the brain sends and receives inputs and signals.

Human Brain Project Obstacles

Various different organizations have voiced questions regarding the ambitious initiative that is the Human Brain Project. These questions are valid on a scientific level, as well as a more cultural and an ethical level. Considering them is important before continuing along with the project.

Questions that were raised include ethical considerations.

  • Why do we need to know more about the brain?
  • If we do find out, what will we do with the knowledge that we have will gain?
  • Would there be any repercussions for the knowledge in regards to how we live on a daily basis?
  • Is intervening and stimulating such an important organ ethically reasonable and how would that affect our consciousness and cognition?

Obstacles like this need to be considered in every experiment and study that becomes a part of the whole Human Brain Project.

Human Brain Project Criticisms

There have been many concerns regarding the Human Brain Project. The attempt to model and build a simulation of the entire brain is quite ambitious. Sometimes, however, it is not as doable as one might hope. The amount of money spent on the project is very large and there is still no real advancement with building that holistic brain picture. A thorough experiment needs to be well thought out and planned out and the Human Brain Project seems to pursue a grand idea but with no clear steps to success.

In order for it to work, the brain simulation needs to working as soon as possible so that scientists can test it and make sure that it works, however, there is no such thing on the horizon just yet. If the researchers spend all the money now and then find out the errors, it can become quite catastrophic. Apart from that, how do you describe a brain? There are many different parts of the brain. It seems a bit too ambitious to encompass all that is the brain in one single model including the neurons and protein, DNA makes up etc. It’s impossible to know where the researchers should start.

We have a huge pool of data but it’s all so vast and different from one another, it can be virtually impossible to put it all together into one single brain simulation. Before we do that we need to formulate a theory and a hypothesis about how we think it works and builds from there, and not just throw all the data available to us in a computer and hope for the best. The thought of that, however, is mind-boggling and exciting.

The Impact of The Human Brain Project

Breakthroughs in neuroscience and medicine come as a result of the ongoing research. Different research groups look into different problems regarding the brain. Even with all of the ongoing research, there is still so much to learn and so little that we do know.

The questions are grand and they branch out in many different ways. Some scientists look at how babies are able to learn and speak their native language. Others connect language learning to bilingualism and its possible role in neurological diseases like dementia. Researchers look into reward systems and decision making. They try fully understanding object recognition, feature integration and biased competition of the visual neurons. The scope of the information that they need to study is endless and all of that encompasses The Human Brain Project.

The Human Brain Project Collaborative Initiative

With the advancements in all three of the fields, including research and advanced technology development, it will become possible to understand cognitive processes, advanced behavior, critical thinking, and reasoning. It will be easier to understand the genetic and environmental factors playing into the development and progression of various neurological diseases. Knowing about the diseases will help learn more about the cognitive consequences that show up as symptoms. After that, it will become possible to develop new treatment strategies in the form of drugs and therapy.

The Human Brain Project is, therefore, very ambitious. If it manages to succeed, it can become one of the greatest collaborative initiative in the world that can help us fully understand our species.


Markram, H. (2011). Introducing the Human Brain Project. SciVerse ScienceDirect (pp. 39-42). Lausanne: Procedia Computer Science.

Markram, H. (2012). The Human Brain Project – Preparatory Study. Lausanne: The HpB-PS Consortium.

Cognitive Biases That Explain Why We Make Stupid Decisions

Cognitive Biases. Do you think the decisions you make are rational? Are they the fruit of a deep reasoning exercise? The truth is that most are not. The decisions that we face day to day we make them almost automatically thanks to mechanisms called heuristics and cognitive bias. Find out more about cognitive biases, how they help us make decisions, sometimes stupid decisions and how to reduce their negative impact on our lives.

Cognitive biases

What are Cognitive Biases?

A cognitive bias can be defined as a deviation from our reasoning and cognitive process that leads us to illogical conclusions, distortions, and errors of thought. Cognitive bias distorts the way we see reality and are very common.

Cognitive biases are mental shortcuts that help us make decisions quickly. However, sometimes cognitive bias can have negative consequences by drastically distorting reality. Cognitive biases affect our daily social communications skills and interactions, even our scientific work.

Our brain tends to save energy. You will try to make things as easy and quick as possible. If we had to analyze every possible variable every time we made a minor decision our brain would overload. It is, therefore, useful to use heuristics or shortcuts that can make our decision-making processes lighter. Particularly when we can’t access as much information as possible.

However, we use these shortcuts even when we have a lot of reliable information. When these heuristics lead us to incorrect judgments, then we are faced with cognitive biases. These biases make us act irrationally and make decisions, often stupid or incorrect ones. It was Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman who first spoke about heuristics and cognitive biases, which earned Kahneman a Nobel Prize in Economics shared with Vernon L Smith. When most of our decisions take us down the wrong path it’s important to be aware why and work on them as well as on our emotional intelligence. Since cognitive biases are based on your reasoning and cognitive processes it’s important to keep our cognition in shape. Find out how you can do this through CogniFit.

Types of Cognitive Biases and how to avoid them

What types of cognitive biases do we use? How can we stop using them or minimize their use to enhance our critical thinking?There are a lot of biases that people use, here is a selection of the most used, but there are

There are a lot of cognitive biases that people use, here is a selection of the most used.

1. Cognitive bias of the bandwagon effect

This bias relates to believing in something cause many other people do. The probability of a person believing in something increases depending on the number of people who support it. The more people believe the more the person is likely to believe. People tend to follow the crowd, without thinking about whether, really, what they are doing makes sense or not. However, not necessarily because everyone does it, does it have to be good.

How do we avoid this cognitive bias? Before doing something because most people around us do, think first if it is really something you want to do or is it simply to follow others. Weigh out as much information as possible, investigate whether it makes sense or not.
For example, before starting a detox diet, ask yourself, investigate and reflect. Is this diet healthy?

2. Cognitive Confirmation Bias

It is the tendency to seek and interpret the information that comes to us in a way that confirms our beliefs and, in parallel, ignore or give less importance to the information that contradicts them. For example, if I think that drinking milk is bad, I will give more importance to arguments, research, and news that say that milk is harmful and will detract importance to those who say that milk is beneficial. Even if I drink milk and then I have a stomach ache it is easier to attribute it to the milk than to the vegetables I ate at noon.

How do we avoid this cognitive bias? Always consider the full range of opinions, both those that are in favor and those that are against your beliefs or opinions. This way you can see the situation more objectively and you can create an opinion, based on all possible data, instead of biased and partial information. Also try to ask yourself how or why you know something, where did you get that information? Is it truthful?

3. Cognitive bias of fundamental attribution error

The fundamental attribution error consists in giving external explanations to our errors and internal to our successes. As well as, we will give internal explanations to the errors of the others and external to their successes. For example, if our favorite team wins, we will think “we are the fastest, we have the best players”. If our rival team wins, we will think “the referee was biased” “the other team cheated”.

When we make a mistake we tend to give an external explanation, for example, if we arrive late we will think: “there was a lot of traffic”, “someone held me up”. , on the contrary, our companion is late, we will think ” he is always late”, “he woke up late”.

This mistake helps us protect our self-esteem, yet it is still a misconception.

How do we avoid this cognitive bias? Try being open-minded when someone makes a mistake, it might not be his fault. Give praise to people for their success that it can also be because of their abilities, not just because of others. Mistakes are part of a set of circumstances that can be to ability or situation. Therefore, we should analyze it carefully to know which circumstance has more proof. Don’t be so quick to judge others or yourself. 

4. Hindsight Cognitive Bias

Surely, after something happened, you have thought, “I knew it.” and actually believed you saw it coming. This is the retrospective cognitive bias.

How do we avoid this cognitive bias? When you think that you had predicted something, think about the real odds. If there were really low odds, it’s hard for you to have known it was going to happen.

5. Anchoring Cognitive Bias

It is the tendency of human beings to “anchor” them or to focus on the first piece of information we receive and then make judgments or make decisions. Different anchor points will give different results, even if these initial values are random. For example, imagine that you are going to buy a car and the first place you go you are asked 50,000 euros. You know that’s a very high sum, but to the places you go after, even if the price reduction is minimal, comparing it with the first one, you’ll see it more reasonable (even if it’s still not).

And this applies not only to the financial sphere. A doctor can anchor himself to the diagnosis of some illness by the first symptoms that he sees, and ignore other symptoms or data.

Anchoring- Cognitive Bias

How do we avoid this cognitive bias? Reflect carefully on whether the offer they have made is really reasonable or we are comparing it with the initial price. Think about whether you really believe that what you’re doing is because you think it’s the right thing or you’re “anchoring” some facts and giving up other data.

6. Blind Spot Cognitive bias

It is the tendency to believe that we are less biased or less prejudiced than we are. What happens is that we often think that what we believe is true. We are convinced we have the truth in our hands making it more difficult for us to identify our prejudices.

How do we avoid this cognitive bias? Realize that we all have prejudices, to a greater or lesser extent, nobody is free from them. Reflect on what you think. Ask: What evidence do I have that this is so?  This will help you identify your prejudices and by being aware of them you will be able to not let yourself be guided by them.

7. Illusory Correlation Cognitive Bias

It consists in believing that two events are related when in fact we have no proof that it is so. This bias is related to superstitious behavior.

How do we avoid this cognitive bias? That two events happen close together or you established they usually happen together it does not mean that they are related. For example:A woman believes that pit bulls are inherently dangerous. When she hears of a dog attack in the news, she assumes it is a pit bull that attacked. Therefore, it is best to be cautious and not assume relationships between two events or things until you have more information.

8. False Consensus Effect- Cognitive Bias

It is the tendency to believe that our beliefs and opinions are more widespread than they really are. It is the belief that our attitudes and beliefs are common and appropriate.

How do we avoid this cognitive bias? Everyone sees the world from their own perspective and sometimes it is difficult to get away from it. Before assuming that everyone else thinks alike, remember that everyone has their own mind, their own ideas, beliefs and opinions. We may share some, but that can only be known by talking to or getting to know others.

9. Illusion of Control- Cognitive Bias

It is the tendency to believe that we can control or influence certain situations or events, when in fact it is not so.

How do we avoid this cognitive bias? Being realistic about what we can or can’t control. We will pass an exam thanks to our study and effort, not because of our lucky charm. People do not have the ability to control time, or the outcome of a football game.

10. Availability Heuristic – Cognitive Bias

We overestimate the importance of the information that we have more available and accessible. We will see a fact or situation as more frequent and probable if we have at our disposal information about that fact.

For example, we can argue that lifestyle is not so important in our health because we know someone who smokes, drinks, does not exercise and does not eat healthily and is 90 years old.

How do we avoid this cognitive bias? He thinks that the most frequent or most frequently presented information is not the most representative. What will really be reliable when determining the frequency of something is the statistical basis of the fact.

Find out more about cognitive biases behind irrational decisions in the following video.

We hoped you enjoyed this article and that you can put into practice these tips. Feel free to leave a comment below.

This article is originally in Spanish written by Andrea García Cerdán, translated by Alejandra Salazar.

Social Psychology: Interaction Between Psychology and Society

What is social psychology? What are its practical applications? Who are its main authors? What topics do social psychologists study? In this article, we will solve all these questions and we will comment on several examples. Learn valuable knowledge that will help you to scientifically explain your day to day. Welcome to the exciting world of social psychology.

Social Psychology

What is Social Psychology?- Definition

Why is it that people are so determined to fight? What drives some people to donate all their money to charitable causes? Why do we feel so identified with certain groups? If you have asked yourself these questions, you have tried to solve the concerns of social psychologists.

Social psychology is a popular branch of psychology that studies the psychological processes of individuals in society. Social psychology is the study of how social and cognitive processes affect people perceive, influence, and relate to others. Basically, it’s trying to understand people in a social context, and understanding the reasons why we behave the way we do in social situations. Social scientists and psychologists study how social influence, social perception and social interaction influence individual and group behavior in interpersonal relationships and the ways that psychology can improve those interactions. Social psychology affects every aspect of our lives, whether we depend on, are influenced by, or react to others. People act differently in different situations because the people around us affect our actions. In broad outline, we can say that it is responsible for explaining how our social relationships make us feel, what we think about them, what are our motivations for relating other people, how we act with other people, etc. This area in psychology was born at the beginning of the 20th century.

Like with any other science, there are some basic assumptions of social psychology. One is that all behavior occurs in a social context, and individuals adhere to these norms even when alone. Another is that other people and the society they create around an individual is a major influence on their behavior, thought processes, and emotions. Social psychology looks at different areas such as social influence, social cognition, social behavior, and social development. Within those areas, social psychologists look at conformity, obedience, attitudes, social identity, relationships, attachment, and discrimination. Social psychologists also look at interpersonal and group dynamics and research social interactions and their influencing factors, such as group behavior, leadership, attitudes, and public perceptions.

History of Social Psychology

People began thinking about the concept of social psychology as early as our first philosophers, Aristotle and Plato. Aristotle had a more individual centered approach and thought that humans were naturally made to be sociable, in order for us all to be able to live together. Plato instead based his theory on a socio-centered approach and felt that the environment controlled the individual, stimulating social responsibility through social context. The idea of the “group mind” evolved from Hegel, who introduced the concept that society has links to the developing social brain. This then led to a focus on the “collective mind” in the 1860s, which emphasized the view that an individual’s personality develops because of cultural and community influences, especially language. Wundt is seen as the father of psychology and Völkerpsychologie, in which he studied language, cultural myths, and social customs. He saw language as both a product of cultures, as well as individual cognitive processes.

Some of the first experiments conducted in the vein of social psychology occurred in the late 1800s and early 1900s by Triplett and Ringelmann. Triplett conducted a study on if people would perform better or worse when there were other people present. He was the first to find evidence of social facilitation, which is when people are able to perform tasks better when there are others around them observing. Ringelmann’s study looked at how much effort a person is willing to input into a task or project when working alone versus working with others. His study found the basis for social loafing, which is when an individual puts in less effort when working with other people.

Social psychology was able to branch off from other areas of psychology because of the belief that people’s behavior changes depending on the cognitive processes with which they perceive and interpret the social situation they are in.

What does Social Psychology study?

The issues addressed by social psychologists are as diverse as the immense variety of situations that are presented daily in our social life. These are the main topics studied and an example of a problem associated with each one:

  • Identity construction: How do we determine which features define us?
  • Attitudes and Social Psychology: What pushes us to be ecologists?
  • Cognition in social relations: How do we make judgments about others behaviors?
  • Communication: What drives us to spread our intimacies in social networks?
  • Interpersonal relationships: Why do some people attract us and others disgust us?
  • Culture from a psychosocial perspective: How do we collectively place images that influence our emotions?
  • Stereotypes in social psychology: Why are blondes said to be dumb?
  • Conflicts: What can lead someone to bully someone else?
  • Helping others: Why do some people spend their time volunteering?
  • The groups: What encourages us to consider ourselves unconditional fans of a certain team?

Social Psychology: Features

1. Social psychology and relations with various disciplines

Sociology is the science most closely related to social psychology. Other fields such as education, economics, philosophy, political science, history, anthropology, or other branches of psychology maintain a two-way relationship that is remarkably enriching with this area of study.

2. Social psychology’s focus on psychological processes

Despite the need to combine different perspectives to reveal the insights that this discipline explores, not all sciences related to society are the same. Social psychology is distinguished from other subjects by its particular emphasis on what happens within the minds of individuals and their influence on behavior.

3. Social psychology: scientific approach

The object of study of social psychologists is less tangible than that of other scientists such as chemists or biologists. Even so, there are methods, such as experiments or correlational methods (which consist in observing how certain variables are affected), which enable social psychology experts to develop solid and applicable theories.

4. Social psychology and confusion with common sense

We all have a theory about the aspects that social psychologists study. At times, when the general public reads about social psychology, it thinks that it only deals with cliché and/or subjective opinions. However, these professionals are rigorously demonstrating issues that people are accustomed to discussing based on their personal experiences.

Applications of social psychology

In addition to theory and research, social psychology has many uses that directly affect our daily lives. Applied social psychology tries to improve the quality of life of people in an endless number of dimensions.

  • Health: It seeks to improve the individual’s well-being through tasks such as promoting healthy habits or neutralizing stressful social situations.
  • Social Problems: Unemployment, immigration or gender violence are issues analyzed by social psychologists, who also design intervention plan in order to resolve conflicts.
  • Education and social psychology: It focuses on issues such as the perception that people have about the education system or how to improve coexistence among students.
  • Environment: Social psychology is concerned with the interaction between the environment and people.
  • Legal area: It addresses issues that connect the world of law with that of psychology, such as prevention of criminal activity.
  • Organizations: Explore leadership, productivity, relationships among corporate workers, etc.
  • Politics and social psychology: It questions issues such as the effectiveness of political discourses or the attitudes of citizens towards politicians.
  • Communication and consumption: Advertising influence, our communicative skills, the union between individuals and brands or behavior in social networks are examples of topics addressed in this field.

In short, the performance of applied social psychology is indispensable in many and varied areas that require progress. Also, social psychologists are concerned with empirically demonstrating the validity of the solutions they propose and implement.

Psicología social: Aplicaciones

Social Psychology: Experiments

In this section, we will tell you two of the most renowned experiments in social psychology to show you how social psychologists work and their shocking discoveries.

During World War II

Unfortunately, a large impetus for the study of social psychology was World War II and the workings of the Nazi party and Holocaust. Researchers sought to understand the effects of the leaders’ influence, and how conformity and obedience played a role in why they were willing to participate in such evil, terrible actions. Researchers were interested in how these attitudes formed and were changed by the social contexts set by the leadership.

Experiment on social facilitation

Norman Triplett is the creator, according to several authors, of the first experiment of social psychology in 1898. He was curious about the speed increase observed in cyclists as they moved in a group. Its objective was to find out how the influence of a subject’s performance influenced the presence of other people performing the same activity.

His hypothesis was that our performance increases when we think we are competing with others (in motor tasks). Therefore, Triplett tried to verify the veracity of this affirmation in a laboratory. He asked some children to roll up reels of fishing thread. Some of the participants did it alone and the others accompanied by others who performed the same task. The result was that subjects in the second group were significantly faster.

Standford Jail Experiment

Philip Zimbardo, an acclaimed social psychologist, devised an experiment that went down in history for its bewildering results. He chose twenty-four students who appeared mentally healthy after an evaluation. Subsequently, he divided the group and randomly performed two groups. One was composed of policemen and the other by prisoners. In addition, he turned the basement of Standford University into a prison and made sure that the costumes and standards were as realistic as possible.

The participants were randomly assigned to be “prisoners” or “guards,” and were supposed to play out those roles throughout the experiment. Many of the guards grew to be increasingly sadistic towards the prisoners, unsettlingly more so at night when they believed the cameras to be turned off. The experiment had to be shut down after only 6 days, short of the planned 2 weeks, after a riot in the prison, for fear of someone getting seriously hurt. The experiment has been used as a prime example of people accepting and obeying an ideology, especially if they have institutional and societal support for their actions. Unfortunately, we can also see similar effects in the United States after the previous presidential election. There has been a rise in hate crimes, racism, and xenophobia since the election because the perpetrators feel that they have the support of the leaders in government.

The social explanation is that any person can act badly given a particular context. Watch the trailer to a movie based on this experiment.

Social psychology case studies: How can I apply social psychology to my daily life?

Who has never wanted to better understand and predict others behavior? Have you ever considered the motive that drives you to pretend that you feel like doing something for your group? Fortunately, social psychology gives us scientific answers to our daily questions.

Given that we live in society and need to adapt as best we can, a little bit of social psychology in our lives can help us explain teamwork discussions, job stress, the madness of Black-Friday sales or prejudices against people.

Discover these tips and recommendations that will help you apply the principles of social psychology to your routine:

Beware of your cognitive bias

Cognitive biases are deviations from reality that arise when we process information. We do not have enough resources to devote attention to everything around us and our brains tend to think at an amazing speed. For example, in order not to waste time, we tend to confirm our beliefs and to elude data that deny them.

This predisposition is natural and happens frequently. However, sometimes it can lead us to make mistakes, to contemplate our world through inappropriate stereotypes or to have unjustified prejudices. We need to reflect on our opinions and try to be objective.

Learn to influence others

We all need to occasionally influence others to get something. This does not involve manipulating or having evil intentions. Simply, we may want our sister to lend us a dress, make a good impression at a job interview or prevent a friend from making a lousy decision.

Actions like being polite with our interlocutor, doing favors or complimenting are remarkably effective tactics to achieve our purposes. Robert Cialdini is one of the greatest experts in social influence in the world and describes how effective in his book Influence.

Connect with today

The media are inexhaustible sources of knowledge about social psychology. The social network scandals, different leaders opinions and its power or comments from our acquaintances provide us with a multitude of data that we must process.

By the way, we must not be satisfied with knowing the reality through a single channel. Taking a holistic approach helps us to better anticipate others behavior and improve our problem-solving ability. Our knowledge will be enriched if we listen to the different versions of the stories and try to interpret different points of view.

Discover the exciting books on social psychology

Some social psychologists, such as Robert Cialdini, Elliot Aronson, or Philip Zimbardo, have written very interesting books for both professionals and non-specialists. Their works give you a practical, enjoyable and affordable approach to unravel the mysteries of our behavior in society.

Social psychology looks at how individuals interact in groups such as this.


Social psychology: Theorists and main authors

The list of fundamental social psychologists who made astonishing and still influential discoveries today is quite extensive. Here we present five essential authors and their most relevant contributions.

Social psychology and Kurt Lewin (1890-1947)

This father of social psychology proclaimed the interaction between each individual and all components of his environment. In fact, he was related to Gestalt psychology. He was especially interested in putting his ideas into practice and one of his maxims was “to understand a system you have to try to change it”.

Lewin created the theory of field, which emphasizes the importance of contemplating people’s vital space. This dimension is formed by the totality of the situation of each individual at a certain moment. Insists on not isolating the different factors that influence us and focusing on the dynamics that happen between them.

Solomon Asch (1907-1996) and social psychology

His main area of study was conformism, which is elemental for life in society. He is the celebrated creator of the “Asch paradigm”, which was demonstrated by a revolutionary experiment. In 1951, this psychologist brought together groups of between five and seven people. One of them was the subject studied and the rest were collaborators of the researcher.

Asch presented two images, in one there was a line and in the other three lines of different lengths. Subsequently, he wondered which line of the second card had the same length as the first. The experiment had been designed so that the individual analyzed was one of the last to respond. The collaborators gave an erroneous answer and it was verified if the participant also would do it.

The answer was tremendously obvious and simple. However, Asch discovered with surprise that after several trials, 50% of individuals were “mistaken” at least half the time. Asch also showed that conservative ratings vary from one culture to another, collectivists are more prone to this phenomenon.

Social Psychology and Stanley Milgram (1933-1984)

Milgram held one of the most terrifying experiments in history. Inspired by the atrocities committed in World War II, he studied obedience to authority and decided to explore the limits of individuals to their superiors.

He selected subjects with normal behavior. He asked the participants in his controversial experiment to administer electric shocks that progressively increased (although in reality they only reached 45 volts) to another person when he was wrong to answer a question.

The victim was an accomplice of the psychologist and had to fake progressive pain as the power of punishment rose. Despite his desperate cries and entreaties, the scientist who played the role of authority insisted that the subjects continue. Unexpectedly, 65% reached the maximum level, which involved delivering 450 volts to the other “participant”.

The explanations proposed for this grisly fact are that Yale provided credibility for the scientific experiment. Meaning that if Yale backed the experiment the discharges were not harmful or maybe the insistence since children on obeying our superiors (parents, teachers, etc.). How would you react to this situation?

Serge Moscovici (1925-2014) and social psychology

Moscovici set out to investigate how we understand the world around us. It started from that we know the reality from social representations that guide us and allow us to develop next to the others. Communication between people is essential to transmit valuable knowledge and ideas and guide us.

We construct concepts collectively and create common sense shared by all of us. Our ideas are interrelated allowing us to enrich our thoughts and give meaning to the different events that take place in the day to day. What are we without others?

Robert Zajonc (1923-2008)

This social psychologist revealed the “mere exposure effect,” which manifests our tendency to appreciate more of a stimulus after being frequently exposed to it. For example, the first time we hear a song on the radio, it may seem bland. However, if you put it on every time we go out, in the car, on television and also becomes a summer hit, it is likely we end up loving it.

Likewise, Zajonc states that our preferences are not completely rational. Emotions always escort thoughts. This influences us when choosing friends or partners since we like the people we see more often. Advertisers have taken advantage of this phenomenon to create deeper links with brands.


Is it possible to bring individuality to situations with so many rules? Social psychology wants to find out.

Is social psychology for you?

Social psychologists are able to work on challenges that affect everyone socially, such as prejudice, implicit bias, bullying, criminal activity and substance abuse. They are able to do so in roles such as researchers, consultants, professors, strategists, or designers. If you are interested in working in social psychology, a masters’ or Ph.D. is usually necessary. But the hard work can definitely be worth it if you feel like you are making an impactful difference in people’s lives.

Thank you very much for reading this article. We hope that social psychology has been inspiring. We invite you to comment if you want to ask us something about this subject or if you feel like making a contribution.


Allport, G. W. (1985). The historical background of social psychology. In G. Lindzey, and E. Aronson, (Eds.), Handbook of Social Psychology, 1, (3), 1-46.

American Psychology Association. Pursuing a Career in Social Psychology. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/action/science/social/education-training.aspx

Carnahan, T.; McFarland, S. (2007). “Revisiting the Stanford Prison Experiment: Could participant self-selection have led to the cruelty?”. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 33 (5): 603–614. doi:10.1177/0146167206292689

McLeod, S. A. (2007). Social Psychology. Retrieved from www.simplypsychology.org/social-psychology.html

Smith ER, Mackie DM. Claypool HM. Social Psychology: Fourth Edition. Psychology Press:2015.

Wilhelm Wundt. (2013, August 1). New World Encyclopedia,. Retrieved March 10, 2017, from http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/p/index.php?title=Wilhelm_Wundt&oldid=971872.

This article is originally written in Spanish by Aihnoa Arranz, translated by Alejandra Salazar.

Self-control: Learn what it is and how to handle it to succeed

Do you feel that your lack of self-control prevents you from achieving your goals? Do you feel that you can’t handle your anxiety or anger? Do you have problems controlling your emotions, thoughts, or impulses? Would you like to improve your self-control or that of someone you love? If your answer is yes, this article on what is self-control, techniques to improve self-control might interest you.


What is self-control?

Self-control is the ability that allows us to control our emotions, our impulsive behavior, and impulses,  allowing us to reach our goals and objectives. Self-control is necessary to successfully perform most of the facets of our life, such as studying, working, educating, maintaining our relationships.

We could say that self-control is like a thermostat whose function is to maintain our balance and stability, both internally and externally. When it works properly, it helps us control the impulses and desires that keep us from our goals. For example, if you want to pass an exam, you need to stay at home studying. For this, you must control the impulse to go out and see your friends. Another example would be to tell your boss everything he does wrong and how he causes you job stress but in order to keep your job, you need self-control.

The importance of self-control

It has been proven that people with high self-control are often the most successful people in life. Researchers found that people with greater self-control may have brains that function more efficiently. This suggested that those with self-control may have extra willpower because it takes them less effort to exert it.This is due to the influence emotions have on the decision-making process and how they also guide our behaviors, impulses and our lives.

The problem is that when we want something, we need to get it right away. When we don’t get it, we stress and experience negative emotions, making it difficult for us to handle our emotions or control our anger.

Self-control, therefore, is a complex cognitive process that requires the presence of other previous skills in order to develop. More specifically, before we can develop our self-control, we need to: Learn to identify our emotions, to understand them, and then to be able to control and regulate them, and with that, regulate our behavior. This gives you control to own your decisions, behaviors, and impulses, by this you will be able to decide how, where and when to channel them. In addition, we must learn to cope with other interfering aspects such as stress created by negative emotions and thoughts, which makes it much more complicated.

Difference between repression and self-control

It is important to keep in mind that self-control and repression are not the same, and are commonly confused. Self-control requires awareness of the emotions, understanding them and acting accordingly to manage and control them. On the other hand, when we talk about repression, we are referring to hiding the emotions, to eliminating them, not paying attention to them, and waiting for them to disappear as if by magic, which won’t happen.

Here is an example for you to better understand what we mean: “You are feeling angry and you think that you would hit anything that was within your reach, but you can’t do it at that moment and you must control yourself”. For this, you can follow two paths:

  • Self-control strategy: To become aware of what you are feeling, accept it, and try to create an opposite emotion through strategies such as the evocation of quiet memories, or distracting yourself with anything that reduces the intensity of the emotion. This helps reduce your impulses and increase your self-control.
  • Repression strategy: Tighten your fists, without being aware of what is happening to you, and think constantly about hitting something until it would be destroyed.

The difference between the two terms is evident, just as the effects each generate. For this reason, in this article, we not only want to teach you not to let yourself be driven by your impulses but also to manage them properly.
If an emotion, such as anger, becomes trapped inside us, without being able to understand and regulate it, that anger and fury will take over our thoughts and behaviors. It will make us irritable making it very difficult to reach our goals. Instead, if we can control the anger we feel at a given moment, our mood will change, making it easier for us to achieve our goals.
Here are the key steps that will help you improve your self-control. This is not a simple task, which is learned in a day but requires patience, effort, dedication and time to develop.

Self Control: Identifying your emotions

As we have been saying throughout the article, the key to handling our impulses lies in the control, understanding, and management of our emotions and thoughts.

The problem is that on many occasions we are not aware of the repercussions that this can have when managing or controlling our impulses. We run the risk that our emotions and thoughts take control of our behavior, moving us further away from our goals. Let’s not forget that our emotions are also related to the quality of the decisions we make each day.

For this reason, it is important that we learn to identify our emotions and become aware of them. If we succeed, we will have taken the first great step towards our self-control. We can say that there are two types of emotions: Primary emotions and secondary emotions.

  • The primary emotions are universal (joy, fear, anger, sadness, disgust, surprise), and most people are able to identify them without much trouble. We know their physical manifestations perfectly and what they mean when we feel them. For example, when we are happy our body seeks positive experiences, and when we are sad, our body disconnects.
  • Secondary emotions are more difficult to identify, as they are a result of several primary emotions, and their manifestations are not as obvious and clear.For this reason, it is necessary that you identify all your emotions and know what effect they have on our thoughts, behaviors and physical manifestations.

For this reason, it is necessary that you identify all your emotions and know what effect they have on our thoughts, behaviors and physical manifestations.

Once you have learned this, you will be able to understand what happens to you every moment and act accordingly. You will be able to have self-control, reduce intense emotions and handle and regulate the “negative physical waste” that certain emotions leave behind, such as anxiety. For example, anxiety arises from the combination of fear and guilt or shame. If we experience anxiety, we will be able to identify those thoughts that cause fear, guilt or shame, and we can work to change them. Thus, instead of not being able to control it, abandoning the first attempt and doing something that we don’t want, we can reduce the emotion, and successfully overcome the situation.


Self Control: Learn to control your emotions

As we have been saying throughout the article, emotions play a strong role in self-control. If we can manage them, we will be able to control them, and therefore, we will be able to increase our self-control. Here are some tips to improve your self-control:

Identify and define the emotions you are feeling.

To do this, you can use a technique that I call “personal emotion book“. When you are in a situation that makes you feel an emotion that you find difficult to control, fill out the following questions in a small notepad:

  • What is the name of the emotion that I just felt?
  • What is the name of the emotion that I just felt?
  • What physical manifestations does it produce?
  • What thoughts did I have?
  • How have I dealt with the situation?

Writing this down will help you internalize it. In addition, you will have the possibility to consult it when you consider necessary.
On the other hand, it can also help you document all the different emotions that you experienced and how they manifest. Therefore, later you can compare with other emotions that are harder to identify.

Comprehend the emotions that you are feeling

To do this, you can use a technique that I call “Unravel the Enigma“. This should always be done when the “Personal Emotion Book” technique has been done previously.

In your notebook you will:

  • Make a list that includes the different circumstances that might have caused an emotion, and try to identify the one that triggered the emotional reaction.
  • Try to think what purpose did the emotion have and why did it appear.
    Think thoroughly about the whole experience and try to comprehend and accept it.

Regulate your emotions

This is the last step to achieving self-control. The task is to find other activities or ways to reduce emotional states and symptoms. It is about finding what you do well to regulate your emotions and your behaviors. Some tricks to regulate intense emotional states are

  1. If you find it difficult to create thoughts and emotions that compensate for the pain caused by an impulse that can’t be satisfied, one of the main tricks is to distance yourself from the situation. Try to distract yourself from it and it will be easier for you to reduce the stress it generates. For example, you can go out for a walk, or leave the place for a few minutes, until you feel ready to face it.
  2. Test yourself. Each experience is a good opportunity to learn to improve your self-control. Try to be aware of what happens inside you and around you in the different situations of your life. Pay attention to the different results you get by acting differently in several situations. You can similar chart to the one below and fill it for each situation.Make small records that reflect the situation that caused the emotion, what you thought and how you acted. This will help you identify those dysfunctional responses, and create new alternatives.
  3. Finally, it is very important to be patient, and that you understand that this is not an easy task, so you should not be frustrated while trying.
Self-control chart

If you follow these steps you will become closer to achieving self-control. This will help you develop a more balanced and happy life because remember that your happiness depends on the way you interpret and face reality, and that is something that is only in your hands.

Finally, I leave you with a video about self-control and long-term and short-term goals that could be very useful.

I hope you find this article useful. Feel free to leave a comment below!