Many different methodologies are used to study
cognitive science. As the field is highly
interdisciplinary, research often cuts across
multiple areas of study (triangulation), drawing on
research methods from the biological level of
analysis and the socio-cultural level of analysis.
Some methods commonly used at the CLOA are:
Case studies/Interviews/Focus Groups
Experiments: A method to investigate cause and effect,
i.e. what causes certain behaviors (examples of
experiments are Bartlett, Loftus and Palmer, etc. ) These
should be referenced and discussed in your response.
Strengths: Controlled environment offers high replicability
and low chances for any errors. We are often able to
isolate a specific cognitive process with research
Weaknesses: Has low ecological validity since tests are
done in controlled laboratory environment, not very
reliable unless a large it is done on a large sample group
(which, in turn, can be very costly and time consuming)
For example, a person may respond a certain way because they
know they are apart of an experiment.
•Quasi Experiments: Quasi experiments are so
called because they are not classed as true
•A quasi experiment is where the independent
variable is not manipulated by the researcher but
occurs naturally. These experiments are often
called natural experiments.
•In a true experiment participants are allocated to
the conditions of an experiment, usually through
random assignment, however this is not always
possible for practical or ethical reasons.
•In a quasi experiment the researcher takes
advantage of pre-existing conditions such as age,
sex or an event that the researcher has no control
over such as a participants’ occupation.
•Cross-cultural research and studies comparing
male and females often use quasi-experimental
•For example: Cognitive Psychologist often study
gender differences in cognitive processes. A
research study can be referenced in your
•Especially in social sciences, where pre-selection
and randomization of groups is often difficult, they
can be very useful in generating results for
general cognitive trends. Such as cultural or
gender differences in memory and or schemata.
•Quasi-experimental design is often integrated
with individual case studies; the figures and results
generated often reinforce the findings in a case
study, and allow some sort of statistical analysis to
Quasi experimental studies can be a very
powerful tool, especially in situations where ‘true’
experiments are not possible. They are very good
way to obtain a general overview and then follow
up with a case study or quantitative experiment,
to focus on the underlying reasons for the results
Case studies: A detailed study of a single case or group
(and example of a case would be the study done on
H.M. and or Genie) A specific case study should be
referenced and discussed in your response.
Cognitive Psychologists rely on psychobiological case
studies to examine brain deficits on cognitive processes.
(This is also an example of how principle two can be
demonstrated in research-a specific case study should
be used if you are going to mention this in your response).
Strengths: Provides in insight into unusual phenomenon
that occurs very rarely or unethical to replicate (e.g.
Clive Wearing or Phineas Gage), findings that
contradict traditional beliefs about cognitive
processes can open windows for new ideas and
theories, thus, stimulating new researches
For example: Case studies on feral children can lead
to further research on language as a cognitive
Weaknesses: Extremely difficult to replicate (e.g. Kim
Peek's study), prone to researcher bias; low in
credibility and trustworthiness, however, triangulation
can reduce this factor .
Description of Kim Peeks study can be used to further
support this statement:
Interviews allow for researchers to gain insight about
specific mental processes (perception, memory, problem
Semi structured: Interview with pre-set list of topics but in
which “natural” conversation is attempted
Strengths: more flexibility, allows more interaction, allows
exploration and identification of themes, allows gathering
of idiographic data
Weaknesses: places limits on what is asked, time
consuming, lacks reliability, difficult to generalize,
researcher and subject bias.
For info on cognitive interviews
Since cognitive studies mostly deal with humans
and their way of thinking, certain code of ethics have
to be followed in research in order to assure safety of
the participants, their state of mind, and personal
Common ethical considerations in psychological
studies are informed consent, protection from harm,
right to withdraw, confidentiality and privacy of the
participants, and debriefing after the experiment.
•As previously stated in objectives 1.2 and 1.3, these
internal mental processes are investigated scientifically
through experimentation, case studies, animal
•It is possible that ethical considerations affect the
research in the cognitive perspective. For example by
limiting the amount and the extent of experimentation
done on humans and living animals.
How is research at the cognitive level of analysis limited
and or constrained by ethical guidelines?
Should studies that violate ethical considerations be
considered as valid research?
•Sometimes humans cannot be studied (because of
ethical guidelines concerning humans). Sometimes
animals are used to examine how specific brain
deficits relate to the ability to process information
(because of physiological similarities between
animals and humans).
•Since ethical guidelines are always considered
while conducting research, it may limit the amount
of research being obtained.
•The cognitive approach is mainly focused on
internal processes and it is sometimes necessary, in
the name of science, to experiment with living
animals and it can often cause them pain or
discomfort; for example removing parts of animals
brains, which some consider unethical.
•Karl Spencer Lashley pioneered the study of brain
mechanisms of learning and memory.
•Lashley devoted many years to an analysis of brain
mechanisms of learning, using the lesion-behavior
method that he developed and elaborated from
the work with Franz.
•During this period, Lashley's theoretical view of
learning was heavily influenced by two widely held
notions: localization of function in neurology and
behaviorism in psychology.
•Lashley systematically set out to find the places in
the cerebral cortex where learning in an extensive
series of studies culminating in his 1929 monograph.
•In this research he used mazes of differing difficulty
and made lesions of varying sizes in different regions
of the cerebral cortex of the rat.
•Often times the rats were held in poorly kept
quarters are were deprived of environmental
•The results profoundly altered Lashley's view of brain
organization and had an extraordinary impact on
the young field of physiological psychology: the
locus of the lesion was unimportant; the size was
critically important, particularly for the difficult
•Should we deliberately put animals in pain or
discomfort for the “sake of research”? Why or why
•In this case, some say it is unethical as the animals
•Since these experiments, Ethical guidelines and the
Animals’ Act have gotten stronger and enforced
strict rules which are against certain experiments
being conducted since both animals or humans can
•The fact that ethics in humans have to always be in mind
can limit the experiments that are necessary to advance
in the cognitive approach. What are examples of this?
•When considering research in the cognitive perspective
that involves humans, the ethical guidelines have to be
strongly imposed and participants have to be consented
before the experiment.
•As a general rule, deception is not acceptable
when doing research with humans. Using deception
jeopardizes the integrity of the informed consent
process and can potentially harm your participants.
•There are times, however, when deception is
necessary for cognitive research. For example, if you
want to learn about cognitive processes such as
false memories, decision making, and attention;
deception to some extent may be necessary.
•Thus, the question arises; To what extent should we
ethically allow deception in cognitive research?
According to the American Psychological Association,
deception must be handled with a high discretion in human
research. The APA states:
•Psychologists do not conduct a study involving deception
unless they have determined that the use of deceptive
techniques is justified by the study's significant prospective
scientific, educational, or applied value and that effective
non-deceptive alternative procedures are not feasible.
•Psychologists do not deceive prospective participants about
research that is reasonably expected to cause physical pain or
severe emotional distress. This latter principle has been debate
in many cognitive studies including Elizabeth Loftus’ “Lost in a
shopping mall” Study (1995)
•In the mid 1990s, Loftus set out to see the extent of “false
memories”. She sought out to see if one could inject an entire
memory into the mind of someone for something that never
existed? A childhood memory, even something that was mildly
• In the lost-in-the-mall study, implantation of false memory
occurred when another person, usually a family member,
claimed that the incident happened. Corroboration of an
event by another person can be a powerful technique for
instilling a false memory. In fact, merely claiming to have seen
a person do something can lead that person to make a false
confession of wrongdoing.
•For her research study, deception was used in way that implanted
a “mildly traumatic” false memory into a child. According to APA
guidelines, was this justified? Why or why not?
• According to Crook & Dean (1999) “There is no evidence to
indicate that Loftus’ students were informed that deceiving study
participants might be problematic. As Coan (1997) reported: "I
hadn’t realized that deceiving participants as a part of
psychological research was anything other than business as usual ...
I hadn’t considered most of their concerns at all, let alone how to
address them" (p. 275).
•Other considerations, according to Crook & Dean, appeared to be
breached in Loftus’ study: