Cognitive psychology: on its face, it sounds pretty interesting. Your immediate thought when asked what it is probably has something to do with the way your mind works, as anything having to do with psychology should. But this is much deeper than that; this digs deep into the way your mind works. It’s intricate and fantastic all at the same time. Cognitive psychology can be defined as the scientific study of a person’s mental processes, for example: perception, attention, memory, logic, and other things of that nature. At this point, however, many people might start to lose interest – who really wants to learn about all of that? Why wouldn’t you just want to live life, have fun, and not worry about the way your body and mind work? The answer to that question is the following five factoids, or in other words, the most interesting reasons to learn why and how your mind works the way it does. As an added bonus at the end, learn what famous cognitive psychologist literally cannot even right now!
1. The Process of Perception
This is one of the most basic but at the same time interesting things a psychologist can learn during a crash course in cognitive psychology. Basically, everything we see is not exactly as it appears. We as humans perceive everything we see, hear, etc. through the process of transduction. Objects in the real world, called distal stimuli, have physical energy that stimulates sensory organs in our eyes or ears, and through the process of transduction, result in the firing of neural impulses to the brain. Once at the brain, the neural impulses are interpreted and the finished product is our perception of the real world objects, known as the proximal stimuli. In plain English, what we perceive is actually a slight translation of what really exists in the world. What we think of as reality then is actually just a collection of neural impulses that our brain has interpreted. How cool is that? I would argue that a very small percent of the population knows that fact about the process of perception, so this is one neat piece of knowledge.
2. Seeing is Believing
Many people know the basics of how we see objects and colors; light is a form of electromagnetic energy that has different wavelengths and falls onto what is known as the visual spectrum. However, not very many people know much more than that. Not many people know that we as humans can’t even see the majority of the visual spectrum, and that is mind-blowing. There is literally so much going on right in front of our very eyes and we can only see a small portion of it, the colors of the rainbow. The spectrum of visual light falls between 400nm-700nm, with the blue wavelengths being the shortest and the red wavelengths being the longest. The final tidbit of information regarding how we see things is the actual pathway that electromagnetic light follows when entering our eye. Light enters the eye through the pupil, and the lens focuses the light onto the retina. The retina contains the receptors for the light, which then sends more neural impulses to the brain so they can be interpreted and we can figure out what we see. If this doesn’t interest you, I don’t know what will.
3. The Blind Spot
One more factoid on visual perception, I promise. This might be the best one of them all though – every person, no matter how great their vision actually is, has a blind spot in their eye! I bet you have never noticed it but trust me, it’s there. One of the structures located at the back of the eye is called the optic nerve, the place where all of the neural impulses go once they leave the eye and are sent to the brain for interpretation. The reason there is a blind spot is because there are no receptors for light located where the bundle of nerves leaves the eye. No one notices their blind spot while going through the motions of everyday life, however, because the other eye fills in the image that your blind spot is missing out on. Your brain is amazing – it can literally fill in an image that you can’t even see, and you have no idea that it is going on! I mean, that is some pretty incredible information. The human body is something else.
4. Cochlear Implants
Put yourself in this position – you are expecting a baby with your spouse. You have been trying for a long time and finally the day has come, you’re about to have your baby. The baby is born, but all of a sudden you find out that the baby has one problem – it cannot hear anything you are saying. Not that babies can process what you’re saying at all anyways, but this baby literally cannot hear any sound that you are making. Then the doctor walks in and says that she can make your baby hear through the placement of electrodes in your baby’s ear. Sounds like a dream come true, right? Well you better believe that it can actually happen, because it can! Cochlear implants involve placing electrodes in a person’s ear into their cochlea, which stimulates the auditory nerve. The electrodes stimulate different frequencies along the cochlea, which would then allow a previously deaf person to begin to hear things. The smaller the electrodes are, the more that can then be placed, making it easier to hear different frequencies of sound. How awesome is that? Science has advanced so far and fast that it is now possible to give deaf people the chance to hear sound! The only catch is that the cochlear implants have a higher success rate if done at an early age.
Imagine if you lost the ability to identify everyday household objects placed in front of you, but could still copy them and draw them from memory. Sounds pretty awful, right? Unfortunately, that is actually a problem for some people. Agnosia is defined as the damage a person takes that produces a deficit in visual object recognition, with no harm to the person’s memory. One woman, Dee Fletcher, had a problem with some carbon monoxide poisoning that left her with the severe inability to identify objects. She could not copy any object that was placed in front of her, but if someone asked her to draw on apple for him or her from memory, she was able to do so. This is mind-boggling; how is it possible for someone to not identify an object that they’ve known for years, but still be able to draw it from memory? This form of agnosia was demonstrated when Fletcher was asked to put an envelope in the mailbox. If Fletcher was given the letter and told to just put it in, she couldn’t do it. She couldn’t figure out how to turn the letter sideways in order for it to slide into the mail slot. However, if she was given the letter already turned sideways, she could just push it forward and slide it into the slot. It is almost impossible to try to imagine what this must be like. Again though, this is unfortunately a problem for some people because their cognitive processes have been impaired in some way, shape, or form.
Now, for the final question: What famous cognitive psychologist can’t even right now?
Your answer is... Alessandro Volta! Talking again about cochlear implants, Volta was the first person to ever make an attempt at electrical hearing. Sounds groundbreaking, but wait until you hear how he did it. He had a battery, and was able to stimulate hearing by connecting a metal rod to each end of the battery and completing the circuit with – get this – his head! What kind of a person is crazy enough to do this? Apparently, a cognitive psychologist interested in teaching himself how one might be able to make themselves hear electrically. The weird part – Volta described a sort of cackling, bubbling sound when he had completed the circuit. He actually was the first person to discover electrical hearing, and what has now developed into cochlear implants! Because of him, it is now possible to make previously deaf people hear. A round of applause for Volta; he literally cannot even right now!
There you have it, these are five of the most interesting and potentially mind-blowing facts about cognitive psychology that you probably didn’t know before. If these five facts don't get you interested in the field, at least a little bit, then I don’t know what will. I mean come on, who knew that what we see is actually a translation of what is actually there? Who knew that we could make deaf people hear by placing electrodes on their cochlea to stimulate their auditory nerve? This is fascinating, absolutely fascinating. Finally, to top it all off, one last round of applause for Alessandro Volta! This guy literally completed a circuit with a battery, two metal rods, and his HEAD. Cognitive psychology is one of the most interesting fields a person can study, or at least attempt to understand, bar none.