Career in Cognitive Psychology

Learn how to become a cognitive psychologist.

What is Cognitive Psychology?

Cognitive psychologists examine internal mental processes such as memory, perception, learning and language, and they are concerned with how people understand, diagnose, and solve problems and make decisions. These psychologists focus upon how people attain, process and recall information.

Cognitive psychology generally favors the gathering of empirical data from scientific research methods instead of through clinically based observation (such as in the field of psychoanalysis) to reach conclusions and state a case. However, because cognitive psychology is a vast and diverse field, clinical observation can be useful in generating hypotheses for further research.

What Does a Cognitive Psychologist Do?

These psychologists perform the following duties:

  • Conduct research on the human thought process
  • Teach at colleges and universities
  • Work at government agencies
  • Work as human factors consultants or industrial-organizational managers
  • Study the human brain and memory in relation to computers
  • Work with Alzheimer's or memory-loss patients
  • Work with children to understand memory formation
  • Teach language skills and problem solving
  • Work in the legal system and study the mental processes of criminals, witnesses, juries and judges

Education & Training

In order to practice, you'll need to have your doctorate. A cognitive psychology PhD is an intense program and generally takes at least four to five years to complete. You will also be required to work in an internship with a qualified cognitive psychologist prior to beginning work on your own.

Courses that will pertain specifically to your degree will include cognitive learning, neuroscience, advanced social psychology and life-span development, as well as advanced research methods training that will include statistics, psychometrics and structural equations.

Work Environment

Cognitive psychologists work in many different settings, from classroom to laboratory, government office to neuroscience facility. Your day will be spent working in a collaborative capacity with other psychologists of all persuasions, neuroscientists, linguists, computer scientists and other professionals who are intent upon understanding how our brains function and why we learn and behave as we do.

Everything from brain imaging to psychometrics—the interpretation of quantitative tests for the measurement of intelligence, aptitude, and personality traits—will be incorporated into your daily work environment.

Salaries

Cognitive psychologists are part of the larger field of psychologists. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' 2014-15 Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median national annual salary for psychologists, all others, is $90,020. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.