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JoVE Science Education
Cognitive Psychology

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Perspectives on Cognitive Psychology


Source: Laboratory of Jonathan Flombaum—Johns Hopkins University

As an Assistant Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science at Johns Hopkins University, I teach Introduction to Cognitive Psychology. This large class primarily consists of freshman and sophomores majoring in related fields, like Psychology, Neuroscience, or Cognitive Science. One of the challenges I face in the classroom is teaching students to appreciate how data are obtained in the process of performing experiments. Students have difficulty in appreciating the chronology of experiments as they unfold in time.

This JoVE collection in Cognitive Psychology makes the experimental timeline absolutely clear and encourages students to understand the trajectory and not just jump to conclusions. The videos also present experiments as paradigms—to illustrate how researchers can implement tasks in different ways—depending on the questions at hand. Most of these questions translate to the real world and the limits of our cognition. For example, the video Measuring Verbal Working Memory Span demonstrates our limited memory capacity, which explains the difficulty in remembering long shopping lists.

These JoVE videos in Cognitive Psychology provide a perfect place for instructors to start if they are interested in demonstrating tasks in class. Better yet, the videos can be used to get students involved—to execute the procedures and to even be the participants. Thus, the collection perfectly introduces lab components to a Psychology class.


My name is Jonathan Flombaum. I'm an assistant professor of psychology and cognitive science at Johns Hopkins University. I teach Introduction to Cognitive Psychology, and that's a very large class. It has no prerequisites, and so about a third to a quarter of the students are freshmen and sophomore who are cognitive science majors or psychology majors or neuroscience majors, and then the remaining third or so of the course of the students come from a variety of backgrounds, including seniors and juniors fulfilling distribution requirements, people who are just interested in the topic and are taking it for extra coursework. 

The biggest challenge I find teaching psychology classes in general and Introduction to Cognitive Psychology in particular is having students learn to appreciate how data is obtained, so how experiments are done, as opposed to what the experiments supposedly say or what scientists believe. Students often want to think about science courses in terms of some facts that they need to learn and understand, but in my courses, at least, the most important thing is to understand how those facts are obtained, how it is that we test ideas in science, and how we measure things, and then the kind of logic that leads us from the data we obtain to the conclusions that we eventually draw.

For students, it can be very difficult in psychology classes to appreciate the chronology of an experiment. So, an experiment is ultimately an event that unfolds in time, and students can lose sight of that thinking more about the conclusions that are arrived to from a particular experiment. So, for students these videos can be helpful by making the chronology absolutely clear, so their opportunities to actually see the events unfold in time and helps students start to think about experiments as a sequence of events and hopefully get them to do that on their own whenever they learn about a new experiment to start to be able to say, well, what happened first, what happened second, and how did that trajectory through time lead the experimenter the place that they wanted to get to. 

One of the most important things about the Science Education videos is that they present experimental paradigms in a general way, so they illustrate how a given paradigm is really a paradigm. It's something that can be used to test different ideas depending on the variations that an experimenter might introduce to the paradigm, so an experimental paradigm is not designed to just test one idea, it might someday be used to test the exact opposite of the idea that it originally was designed for. 

Many of the concepts demonstrated in these videos translate to the real world. In fact, in psychology it's almost always the case that we're trying to understand things that happen to all of us on a regular basis, so for example, we all forget things. We all lose our trains of thought. We all experience the limitations of cognition. What these videos do is show how we can take those experiences, so say, trying to remember a shopping list, for example, and turn them into experimental paradigms, which is really what happened in many of the classic iterations of these experiments. So, one might wonder why is that I can't remember a long shopping list, and it's much better if I write it down. Well, the answer can be obtained by running list learning experiments. 

I would recommend these videos to teachers because they're really the perfect place to start if one wants to demo experiments in class. Better yet, the videos can be used to get students involved. The videos make it very clear where students can be involved in executing procedures, and they make it very clear how students can actually be the participants, so the videos are really perfect for introducing a lab component to a psychology class.

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Cognitive Psychology Jonathan Flombaum Assistant Professor Johns Hopkins University Introduction To Cognitive Psychology Large Class Prerequisites Cognitive Science Majors Psychology Majors Neuroscience Majors Distribution Requirements Experiments Data Scientists Facts Testing Ideas In Science Measuring Things Logic Conclusions Chronology

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