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Cognitive psychology is a special science

Rob explains why cognitive psychology is a special science. People really are very different from blocks of wood, drops of water, and iron filings.

The fact that people are not robots and that their behaviour changes in, what may appear to be, unpredictable ways might be taken to be a serious problem. It may even lead some to think that psychology cannot be a science, but this is simply not true.

Yes, behaviour is changeable, but it is not random. If you think that it is in your better interests to spend time studying rather than gaming you will study. What we are trying to do is explain general patterns of behaviour and most of the time our conclusions are phrased in terms of likelihoods rather than certainties. Indeed, you will see (as the course unfolds) that not only are we attempting to describe the norms of behaviour, but we are also trying to capture the exceptions to such norms.

There are lots of fundamental issues being touched upon here – such as the nature of science and the nature of what it is to be human. Nonetheless, the basic claim is that in adopting a scientific approach much progress can be made in understanding how the mind works.

Again we must stress that this is a course about cognitive psychology as an experimental science and not the philosophy of science, but to fail to consider such fundamental issues can result in losing sight of what the ultimate goals are. Given that, there is every reason to pause and take stock.

We mentioned, in passing, the notion of the laws of behaviour, but given that people are variable, is it really sensible to attempt to derive such laws and what would such a law look like?

This may be the first time you have had to consider such issues in such terms – but what do you actually think about what has been discussed?

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Introduction to Cognitive Psychology: An Experimental Science

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