Cognitive Psychology in the Working World
Psychology in Minutes
Cognitive psychology is, shortly summarized, the understanding of how a human’s mental process works and further affects them. The topic covers concepts like memory, decision making and problem solving; and how they happen. After reading a few books on the topic, I decided to reflect on what I had learned and plan a paja about it to apply my learnings further.
After a revolution in the 1950’s in the psychology community, the theory of cognitive psychology became important and well-known (Mcleod 2020). Before the second world war, psychology mainly focused on human behavior and analyzing various forms of conditioning. However, as technology developed after the world wars, so did psychologists’ focus. The new emphasis on mental processes and information processing was coined with the term cognitive psychology.
The true father of cognitive psychology, Ulric Neisser, received a publication for Cognitive Psychology in 1967 (Association for Psychological Science 2012). He was one of the first psychologists who brought light to cognition, after the long focus on behaviorism. Behaviorism, compared to cognition, looked at how the brain reacts to various actions and what lasting effects they may have had on the brain.
An example of this division of the two psychological theories is learning. When people learn new things, perhaps in school, they are going through a cognitive process of memorizing information and gaining knowledge (Weeks 2015, 118). In the past it was seen as a form of conditioning, and just a result of the action of doing different tasks such as homework. However, most of the knowledge learned requires practice and repetition, which is directly in line with cognitive psychology. The subject of mathematics is difficult for some, but to learn it well and retain the information, students are given repetitive assignments so that they can constantly be exposed to it and little by little remember the information and formulas.
Psychology in work life
There are three main parts of cognitive psychology that this essay will focus on in comparison to one’s work life and daily habits. The concept of memory, both long and short term, plays an important role and helps us learn. Then, decision making, another process that our mind withgoes multiple times a day. Lastly, problem solving, which is an age-old topic covered in companies large and small. The majority of these processes occur in either the frontal or temporal lobe, as seen below:
(Spina Bifida Hydrocephalus Scotland n.d.)
Memory is a psychological concept that is rather confusing and difficult to understand. How are some memories just forgotten entirely? Why can’t humans remember anything from their time as an infant? And where do memories go? Our brains continue to develop and change as we grow older, meaning that when we were young, and even infants, the memories had no place to go or stay. The strongest and most prevalent memories are often connected to an emotion, which is why memories from our adolescence end up being some of the longest lasting, because they were influenced by hormonal growth and self-image changes (Ikeda & Teasdale n.d.).
There are multiple different types of memories, and they are stored in various parts of the brain. Each type has a different purpose, and helps our mind recall various actions or facts. Short-term memories are stored within the prefrontal cortex, and only stay there for around 20 seconds (Weeks 2015, 100). These memories are often remembered through repetition, for example when a confirmation code is sent to your phone, you only remember it for as long as it is needed, then forget about it entirely. Whereas long-term memories are stored forever in the hippocampus (Weeks 2015, 100). This is where memories of personal experiences, learnings, facts, and everything else are stored. If a memory is not recalled from the LTM, it means that it has been forgotten.
In addition to the above-mentioned memories, there are more specific categories as well within long-term memories, which are episodic, semantic, and procedural memories. These were developed by psychologist Endel Tulving in the 1970’s after he dove deeper into Hermann Ebbinghaus’ 19th century definition of long and short-term memories (Weeks 2015, 94-130).
Episodic memories are personal experiences stored and recalled in chronological order, or by date. Semantic memories are general facts and knowledge, for example, learned in school. And procedural is where our memory for actions, skills and conditioned responses is stored. These memories can also be combined. If a construction worker is building a house, they must use their procedural memories to recall how to use specific tools and use their semantic memories to know how to calculate dimensions of a room being built.
Memories are one of the most important parts of our brain, without them we would be unable to do or understand anything. They are a crucial part of daily routines, and most humans don’t realize that actions such as brushing one’s teeth in the morning or tying shoes require our procedural memories. More specific skills or knowledge that people may use during their work life are also stored in our brains as memories.
A common concept at Proakatemia is learning by doing and learning from past mistakes. A method of sharing the learnings with the team to follow the team learning model is by facilitating a paja about them. For instance, after running a short-term project, it is wise to share the ups and downs of how it went and the plan behind it. In order to share these aspects in order or in full detail, we must recall our memories, to prevent us from repeating the same mistakes in the future.
The concept of problem solving is a common challenge faced by all humans. Naturally, some problems are larger than others, for example, a scandal at one’s workplace is much larger scale compared to running out of juice in the morning. However, both problems are solved by the use of the frontal lobe. A human’s frontal lobe is responsible for higher cognitive functions such as emotions, personality, problem solving and decision making. In the diagram above, the direct location and size of the frontal lobe can be seen.
Ivan Pavlov, the psychologist who discovered and worked with classical conditioning, made large advancements when it came to problem solving (Weeks 2015, 106). His well-known experiment using dogs to learn about conditioning brought to light how problem solving is more than just trial and error. In the experiment, he conditioned dogs to salivate whenever they heard the sound of a bell. The bell indicated that there was food, which directly caused the behavior of salivation to occur. Although it is simpler in this experiment, because Pavlov used dogs, this would not necessarily work on humans.
Humans have much more complex mental processes that assist us in solving problems. A common and highly valued characteristic in employees and entrepreneurs is conflict resolution or management. In high-risk situations, such as starting a company or investing money, problems may occur more frequently, which requires quick thinking. Conflict resolution can include multiple different steps and perspectives, which is why utilizing resources and connections in order to find the best possible solution is important.
An interesting idea from Adam Phillip’s book, ‘On Balance,’ is that some of the most sensitive topics can create the most conflict, but also cannot be measured. For instance, love, religion, politics, and appetite are some of the most passionate concepts to humans, “and yet one of the things we are most alert to…is when we feel these things have been excessive.” These conflicting beliefs and ideas are important to everyone; however, it is impossible to measure them, yet we always know when one of them has been exceeded. Every individual has their own limits and personal beliefs, which when that line is crossed, can result in conflict. These types of problems are often the most difficult and complex to solve because of the combination of emotion, bias, and sensitivity.
The last part of cognitive psychology that will be covered is the decision-making process. People make choices and decisions daily, some easier than others. They can be made at home, alone, in school, at work, or with other people, which can make them challenging at times.
There are two different types of decision-making systems in our frontal lobe. Most decisions made fall into the fast system, which also means that decisions are susceptible to bias (Weeks 2015, 140). The researcher behind this theory, Daniel Kahneman, found that 98% of a human’s thinking occurs in the fast system (Groenewegen n.d.). Fast thinking happens immediately and without much effort, which can result in a lack of self-awareness and perspective.
People often side with their own personal beliefs, because it is comfortable, and there may be past experiences to back them up. There is a term in psychology, confirmation bias, that means that humans have a tendency to see, interpret, and favor information that sides with their own opinions or beliefs. The fast system of thinking is faulty in this sense, that it lacks the ability to process information longer and see a wider perspective. For human’s to be able to easily do that, it requires practice and experience in uncomfortable situations and an open mind.
The second decision making system is the slow one, which then makes up around 2% of thoughts (Groenewegen n.d.). These are the more skeptical and conscious thoughts that influence our decisions. When people are faced with more challenging choices, the slow system is used to break down the options and contemplate longer on the best choice.
An example of this style of thinking is voting, or an election process that may require additional research even, to feel that the right decision was made. Often in a work environment, these decisions are the tough ones, and sometimes even the uncomfortable ones that push us out of our comfort zones. For instance, when deciding who to hire, or fire, or promote, it is necessary to think deeper and view multiple different perspectives, both personal and company based.
According the Kahneman, the average person makes 35,000 decisions a day (Groenewegen n.d.). These can range from taking a step to the left or right, to deciding on walking or bicycling to work. The mass number of decisions are made quickly using the fast system, because if the human brain had to subconsciously process every decision made, it would burn out and crash. The balance between the fast and slow decision systems are there to keep us alive and are a means of survival.
As mentioned earlier, I am currently in the process of planning a training session regarding the topic of cognitive psychology. Many different aspects of cognitive psychology can be used within our daily lives, and more specifically in our working lives. My goal is to create a training session that combines theory, dialogue, activities, and exercise to ensure that members of all learning styles are appreciated.
I plan to start with a check in question somewhat related to the topic and move from there into a dialogue session combined with explanation from myself for about 50 minutes. I think this topic can be opened up quite well in the form of a dialogue and would like to hear from everyone. Then, to engage the team more, I will plan some activities such as memory games, riddles or standing up to agree to certain statements. All of the activities relate to the topic, and can simplify how the brain really does work in our daily lives. After a few breaks between, I will end with a second discussion and motorola to wrap the paja up and hear some feedback as well.
Here is the official schedule for the training session:
Pretask: Read the following article (can skip the part about careers if you like) https://www.verywellmind.com/cognitive-psychology-4157181#:~:text=Cognitive%20psychology%20is%20an%20area,information%2C%20and%20perceive%20their%20environments.
8.30-8.50 Check in: Share 3 decisions you had to make this morning and why you made them
8.50-9.40 Dialogue: How can we improve our decision-making skills (both personal and team wise) ?
How can we increase perspective and decrease bias?
10.00-10.30 Activity: Riddles (pair everyone up and try to solve them)
10.30-10.40 Short Discussion if time
11.00-11.45 Dialogue: How do you think you solve problems in your daily and/or work life?
11.45-12.00 Motorola (split questions up)
The paja was deisgned to be more open discussion with dialogue because the topic of cognitive psychology is flexible and applies to the situation of the team currently. Both dialogue sessions went smoothly, however, every once in a while the discussion sidetracked and we ran into topics that weren’t as relevant to the question. In my opinion, it has been a while since our team has had a proper dialogue with time to share all feelings and ensure that everyone gets a speaking turn.
One thing to take into practice is the idea of limited speaking turns by using, for example stones or pencils to measure how many speaking turns each person has remaining for the paja. In this way, it would create the possibility for everyone to speak equally without having to worry about never having a chance to speak and require everyone to think more before using their next speaking turn.
Overall, the paja was a success, even though this specific topic is challenging to make theory based without it turning into a lecture. The use of an activity was a good way to apply the concept of problem solving and engage everyone more.
Cognitive psychology is a rather new a deep concept that can be applied to most situations in a person’s life. Understanding how a human’s mental process works makes it easier to work with others and increases productivity and efficiency. Common concepts such as problem solving, and decision-making skills are highly valued and crucial in the business world. Everyone should take time to practice their ability to communicate with others by solving problems and making decisions because everyone will gain valuable experience and be able to apply the knowledge in the future.
Association for Psychological Science. 2021. Remembering the Father of Cognitive Psychology. Read on 20.02.2022. https://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/remembering-the-father-of-cognitive-psychology
Fickes, C., Melone, D. & Riener, C. 2021. Cognition: A Three-Lesson Unit Plan for High School Psychology Teachers. American Psychological Association: Teachers of Psychology in Secondary Schools. Critical Thinking Exercises 2.2, 18-21.
Groenewegen, A. N.d. Kahneman Fast and Slow Thinking Explained. Read on 04.03.2022. https://suebehaviouraldesign.com/kahneman-fast-slow-thinking/
Ikeda, K. & Teasdale, H. N.d. Memory: Why you can’t remember being a baby. Read on 22.02.2022. https://qbi.uq.edu.au/brain/learning-memory/why-you-cant-remember-being-baby
Mcleod, S. 2020. Cognitive Psychology. Read on 20.02.2022. https://www.simplypsychology.org/cognitive.html
Newburg, A. & Waldman, M.R. 2012. Words Can Change Your Brain: 12 Conversation Strategies to Build Trust, Resolve Conflict, and Increase Intimacy. New York: Penguin Group.
Phillips, A. 2010. On Balance. London: Penguin Group.
Spina Bifida Hydrocephalus Scotland. N.d. Cognition. Read on 22.02.2022. https://www.hydrocephalusscotland.org.uk/content/cognition/
Weeks, M. 2015. Psychology In Minutes. London: Quercus.