Cognitive psychology has its roots in cognition, which explores how our mind learns and perceives information. How it processes it, how it stores that information in your memory, and how we retrieve that information. One example is test taking. How do people study and learn information so they can retrieve and share it later on a test? Cognitive psychology reviews not only those functions of the brain, but how can we help people improve those functions.
Human factors subfield
One subset of the field is human factors. This subfield studies how humans interact with the environment, which includes a variety of things like technology. For example, how do we interact with a computer? Initially, laptop keyboards were all the way at the bottom of the device and speakers and other accessories were toward the top. This design required users to place their hands on the tabletop creating a drop between the laptop surface and the table, which was not comfortable or ergonomic. Early human factors researchers identified that it would be more comfortable to move the keyboard to the top of the device and introduce a palm rest, which is the laptop design commonly seen now.
Human factors and learning subfields fused
Advances in technology and an increase in online learning created opportunities to fuse the human factors subfield and the learning subfield. In 2010, the Amazon Kindle first came out and had a text-to-speech function. Researchers began looking at how text-to-speech could be used to maximize learning. For example, how could audio be rendered to promote learning? Things like the intonation, the texture of the sound, when to pause, and when to put emphasis were studied to identify their impact on learners. Research on the topic has continued to evolve and now includes more interactive components like video.
Human factors and forensic psychology
Many people think about clinical forensic psychology when they think about the field. This type of forensic psychology deals primarily with criminal cases and assessment of someone’s state of mind when committing a crime.
However, there is another side of forensic psychology that deals with civil lawsuits and human interaction with the environment. Bad car accidents, trip and fall cases, and a fall from stairs are all examples of human interaction with the environment and relate to the human factors subfield of cognitive psychology.
One example is a case where someone was coming out of a restaurant but tripped on the part of the accessible ramp of the sidewalk that flares up. The issue was that the ramp was not constructed to code. It was a lot steeper than it ought to be. That is when a human factors cognitive psychologist is called in to serve as a consultant. They will read the report, perform measurements, cite legal code, and explain why it is a violation.
Additional research areas
Cognitive psychology touches so many areas of life and advances in technology are creating even more areas for research. Some new research areas include:
- Advances in autonomous driving
- Using virtual reality to address phobias and fears
- How to best use video in online learning
The field of cognitive psychology includes many subfields that often work together to introduce new areas for research and improvements for how humans learn and perceive information.
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