3. Cognitive approach

The IB Psychology course looks at behaviour through three different approaches: biological, cognitive and sociocultural.  In modern psychology it is understood that these three approaches interact rather than compete to explain behaviour.

This chapter looks at cognitive explanations of behaviour.  There are two cognitive processes that are studied in this unit: memory and thinking.  The HL extension looks into the question of how modern use of technology may be changing the way we think and remember.

Each chapter is divided into smaller sections with quizzes to test for mastery of key vocabulary and "checking for understanding" questions with sample answers to check for broader conceptual understanding.

I would like to thank Aidan Carr from St Joseph's Institution International in Singapore for his assistance in writing the sections on thinking and decision making - and cognitive processing in the digital world. 

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Chapter 3.1 Cognitive processing

This chapter looks at models of cognitive processing.  The key theories and models of study are:

  • Schema theory
  • Memory models
  • Thinking and decision making
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Chapter 3.2 The reliability of cognitive processes

This chapter examines the extent to which we can trust the accuracy of our cognitive processes. The key topics of study are:

  • Reconstructive memory
  • Biases in thinking and decision making
  • The influence of emotion on memory

HL Extension: Cognitive processing in the digital world

HL students are asked to delve a bit deeper into how modern use of technology may have an effect on memory, thinking and decision m.  The key topics of study are

  • The effect of technology on memory processing
  • The effect of technology on decision making
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Comments 12

Zheng Li 11 February 2018 - 13:53

Hi John,
For the new syllabus starting from 2019, I wonder if students need to learn "how biological factors affect one cognitive process" and/or "the use of technology in investigating cognitive processes" which is shown in the old syllabus?? Thanks!

John Crane 12 February 2018 - 14:05

Dear Zheng - the biology of memory may be used to address the required material of hormones, localization, neuroplasticity and neurotransmitters. The use of technology is now 'techniques used to study the brain and behaviour."

Lakshmi Priya Vivek 20 February 2018 - 10:58

Hi John,
I came across a question: Explain the use of technology in psychology. Does this refer to technology like videos and apps or scans? If this is asked as a second question in SAQ and if the students write about scans, MRI, FMRI etc..., will the answer be considered wrong?

John Crane 21 February 2018 - 06:37

Lakshmi, there is no question in the new curriculum that specifically states "technology" for SAQs. In the old (current) curriculum, the technology questions should be focused on brain imaging techniques.

Lakshmi Priya Vivek 22 February 2018 - 04:06

Thank You John

Ian Latham 3 June 2018 - 15:13

Festinger cult for me is SCLOA as method covert observation & as part of ERQ on ethics... but can it now count as a study to describe CLOA methods? After all cognitive dissonance now falls within CLOA topic ognitive bias.

I've 4 students who have used Festinger's cult as part of an ERQ on 'methods at the CLOA'. Their discussion of observations ranges from Festinger to observation of brain activity... pointing out overlap with SCLOA method and BLOA methods, and focusing on objective such as testing models of cognitive processes.

I asked on FB, but got likes rather than opinions! So, apologies, but I need to ask here too!

So, can the study be used 'at CLOA'? Thanks!

John Crane 3 June 2018 - 15:35

Dear Ian
I am not 100% confident on this one. I am not sure where "cognitive dissonance" falls in the curriculum. It is not an example of a cognitive bias. One of the most conclusive lists I have found is the Wikipedia list - believe it or not. en.wikipedia.org Festinger also used cognitive dissonance to explain attitude change, not decision making. I guess in order to get credit for this, I would need to find to find some source that actually says that cognitive dissonance is a "cognitive bias." I would argue that it is not.

Ian Latham 3 June 2018 - 17:36

Thanks for the quick answer. It looks like we both shy away from a very typical SCLOA observation being used as CLOA 'evidence'. However, the question was due to the inclusion of cognitive dissonance in the CLOA section of the guide. Or at least - the guide I downloaded back in Sept - please, don't tell me it has changed!!

In CLOA, if you look at the first column: "Reliability of cognitive processes" and the second column "Biases in thinking and decision-making", there is the guidance information entitled "Factors involved in biased thinking and decision-making"

Then, reading down, you have the guidance, "Human beings are not always rational thinkers. Instead they rely on ... Relevant concepts related to ... as well as the cognitive biases:"

There is a list of types of bias, eg. confirmation bias

Then there is: "- cognitive dissonance — a so-called motivational bias that focuses on personal motivation for selection and interpretation of information so that your cognitions are consistent with your decisions and/or behaviour"

John Crane 4 June 2018 - 04:52

I guess the issue is, where did this definition come from? Remember, the person that wrote the guide was not a psychologist. There are many issues with the "guidance" column. And it is not assessed. As for the concept of cognitive dissonance being a cognitive bias, I have looked through several books this morning - most cognitive psychology books do not even include the concept! I would still not use it. Since so many of our examiners are not IB teachers, I think that students really run a risk of not obtaining marks. If you find a source that cites it as a cognitive bias, then let me know. I will ask, however, that the IB look into it.

Ian Latham 4 June 2018 - 09:51

At the end of the day, the essay is about methods + observations are used at the CLOA. But Festinger is not really a good example of how.

The concept explored named in the syllabus (what else if the guidance column for, if not to give guidance?!) and the examiners should be familiar with the syllabus that they mark, shouldn't they, even if they are not IB teachers? So, if it is built into an informed argument, I can't see how it could be marked as 'irrelevant' a priori.

Still, without proper contextualisation & explanation, I agree it isn't very useful in an essay on CLOA methods - that's what I'll be telling my students today.

Lorena Craighead 9 September 2018 - 13:55

Hey John, I was given this elective last week. I have never taught it and feel completely overwhelmed by how well and with how much depth I can support the students, in this second year IB program. Any strategies beyond reading and flash cards to help me and my students??

John Crane 10 September 2018 - 05:18

Dear Lorena

There are some teaching ideas under resources, but I have not started the lesson plans yet for this unit. I have started with abnormal, as this is the most popular - and development. If you look at the lesson plans, however, you will see the strategies that I use. Have students debate a topic, take three or four studies and have them rank them in terms of their method, give students a provocation and have them think about using the research in the unit to address it. As for revision and support, having them regularly review their knowledge in class with a quick think, pair, share to start class, or jeopardy or "pyramid" games. Search both "jeopardy" and "pyramid" and you will find examples.