A cognitive psychologist is a mental health professional who seeks to understand the nature of human thought. Cognitive psychologists are generally most interested in topics such as problem-solving, retrieval and forgetting, reasoning, memory, attention, and auditory and visual perception. Oftentimes, cognitive psychologists work as researchers, either in a research center, in an academic center where they may also teach as a professor, or in another sector such as the technology field, in the corporate world, or for the military. The goal of the research of cognitive psychologists to develop a better understanding of how the mind works. They do this to help others, including those who may have memory deficits or learning difficulties. In some cases, cognitive psychologists may choose to also practice psychology and work directly with clients and/or patients.
What Are Cognitive Psychologists?
According to the American Psychological Association, cognitive psychologists are research-oriented and often study mental processes such as learning, feeling, knowing, and thinking. They believe that they can conduct experiments to scientifically examine these mental processes and, in doing so, employ skills relevant to communications, statistics, research, and the scientific model.
Cognitive psychologists are commonly employed as academic researcher-professors. These individuals balance their time with teaching college students and overseeing those students working on their dissertation/thesis while conducting their own research and publishing their findings in scholarly reports or journals. Cognitive psychologists may also conduct research as human factors specialists, for contractors or agencies affiliated with the military, for school boards and/or districts, as part of the legal community, or on behalf of companies who wish to evaluate how user-friendly a product is.
Concentrations and Specializations for Cognitive Psychologists
Cognitive psychologists tend to specialize in only one or a few areas such as psycholinguistics, aging and cognition, the psychology of reasoning, developmental science, cognitive engineering, cognitive neuroscience/neuropsychology, and cognitive modeling. These psychology specializations will include topics such as artificial intelligence, factors that affect attention and focus, memory retrieval, memory disorders, reading comprehension, visual processing, motivation related to work or school, language development and its relationship to memory, and the relationship between decision-making, emotions, and morals.
Degrees and Education
A cognitive psychologist may complete a bachelor’s degree in psychology that offers courses or the option to specialize in cognitive psychology. Some schools offer a bachelor’s degree in behavioral neuroscience, cognitive science, and similar degrees. An undergraduate degree prepares students for several careers such as human resources representatives, public relations specialists, psychiatric technicians, research assistants, and human factors specialists. Completing a master’s degree in cognitive psychology will allow graduates to pursue careers such as cognitive therapists, operations or policy analysts, human factors engineers, administrators at research institutes, research assistants or coordinators, and psychometrists. The “official” degree of cognitive psychologists is the Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology, which opens the doors for expert roles in the field such as researchers, consultants, and professors.
Psychology graduates who might have previously found positions in teaching are now building research careers as cognitive psychologists in the U.S. military, non-profit organizations, corporations, and the government, at both the federal and state levels. Academic psychologists, including cognitive psychologists, are encouraged to seek licensure to help set themselves apart from the competition and obtain the best job offers possible for their experience and education.