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Welcome and introductory remarks

An introduction to the course by Rob Jenkins
This course introduces you to cognitive psychology as an experimental science. Cognitive psychology is the scientific study of the mind and over the coming weeks you will gain some basic insights into what this actually means. Cognitive psychologists ask and attempt to answer the question How does the mind work? There are of course many differences between the science of cognitive psychology and the hard sciences such as physics and chemistry. But we will draw out the common principles upon which all of these sciences are based. Measurement and observation will come to the fore. We will even go so far as to generate experimental tests about how the mind works.
In this way we will show how cognitive psychology is based on the scientific method. We will explain exactly what this means as the material unfolds. All of the sciences face distinctive challenges. We will focus on the challenges faced by cognitive psychologists when they go about studying the mind. Many things can be measured directly. For instance, if we want to measure heart rate we can do this directly with a heart rate monitor. If we want to measure blood alcohol content we can do this indirectly with a breathalyzer. The amount of alcohol in the breath reflects the amount of alcohol in the blood.
In this way we can find out about the thing we are interested even though we are not measuring it directly. In trying to figure out how the mind works cognitive psychologists measure this indirectly by recording behaviour. For example, if we are interested mental arithmetic then we might time how long it takes a person to complete certain mathematical puzzles. We draw conclusions about how the mind does mental arithmetic but measuring how quickly and accurately people are to complete such puzzles. These measures of behaviour are taken to be indirect indications of how the mind works. This sort of consideration has lead to the metaphor of the mind being like a black box.
You can witness what goes into and what comes out of the box, but you cannot directly observe what is going on inside. The box is sealed and cannot be opened. The challenge for cognitive psychologists is to try to work out what is going on inside the box.


Over the coming weeks we will introduce you to various ways in which cognitive psychologists have studied the mind.

A critical aspect of the course is to demonstrate how our ideas about how the mind works are informed by data collected in experiments. We have set out opportunities for you to act as the experimental participant and we hope that you will be able to collect your own data from other participants. Our intention is to collect the relevant data during the associated week and then provide summaries of those data so that everyone can see what we have found out.

Please note that active tutor facilitation is limited to the number of teaching weeks from when the course run started. Please do not therefore expect any further tutor engagement from beyond then, although you are very welcome to continue to work through the course materials in a self-directed fashion from that point.

Some details about the course

The course is also distinctive in that there are a variety of class exercises that occur throughout and we highlight these.

Class exercise

The intention is to have you engage with the exercise before moving forward. Typically, the exercise sets one or more challenges for you to engage with and typically (but not always) the answers and solutions are provided in the immediate next step. In some cases, the exercises mean clicking on an external link that will take you to a different place on the web. Where this is the case you can either click on a link or a copy of the link is made explicit and you can copy and paste this into a new tab in your browser. You may find that the latter method is preferred. In also providing explicit links, you can copy these and send them to willing volunteers. Yes, we are very keen that you gain hands on experience in testing your own participants.

To this end we also have included Class experiments.

Class experiments

In each of the three weeks we have provided a class experiment that provides a means for you to collect your own data. Over Weeks 1 and 2 we provide you two opportunities to set up an experiment and test your own participants. In Week 3, you can act as a participant in an online task and you might also consider recruiting others to take the test. We will make sure that summaries of the findings will available once there has been ample time to collect the data.

Welcome from Rob

Rob is a Reader in Experimental Psychology in the Department of Psychology, The University of York. He will be the person you will see and hear explaining the material as the course unfolds.

We trust you will enjoy engaging with the course as it unfolds over coming weeks.

And finally, when you have finished reading a section, please ‘Mark as complete’, and move onto the next step.

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Introduction to Cognitive Psychology: An Experimental Science

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