AP Psychology: Cognitive Psychology

Key Takeaways: Cognitive Psychology

  1. Cognitive processes vary along several dimensions, including effortful versus automatic processing, deep versus shallow processing, and focused versus divided attention.
  2. Several distinct types of memory exist, with memories encoded, stored, transformed, and retrieved by a variety of processes. Memory can be improved using mnemonics and other strategies. 
  3. Language contains a number of distinct aspects including phonology, morphology, semantics, syntax, and pragmatics. A variety of biological, cognitive, and cultural factors affect how we acquire, develop, and use language. 
  4. Humans use a variety of methods to solve problems, including trial-and-error, algorithms, heuristics, and insight. 
  5. A number of processes govern creative thinking, which enables human beings to discover new ideas and novel solutions to problems.
  6. Intelligence refers to general cognitive ability and is assessed by a number of different kinds of tests. Intelligence research and testing remains controversial because of disagreements about the meaning of intelligence.
  7. Different theories present a range of definitions of intelligence. Early theories posited a single general intelligence that applied to all mental abilities. More recent theories have suggested there are multiple kinds of intelligence. 
  8. IQ tests were originally developed for children and measured abstract verbal abilities as a way to assess intelligence. Modern IQ tests employ both verbal and non-verbal questions to assess intelligence. When developing intelligence tests, researchers strive for high measures of validity and reliability.
  9. Cultures place importance on the type of intelligence that is most applicable to their societies.

Key Terms: Cognitive Psychology

Cognitive Processes

  • Cognition: The process of thinking or mentally processing information such as concepts, language, and images.
  • Automatic processing: The unconscious processing of incidental or well-learned information.
  • Effortful processing: Active processing of information that requires sustained effort.
  • Shallow processing: Processing information based on its surface characteristics.
  • Deep processing: Processing information with respect to its meaning.
  • Attention: The brain’s ability to focus on stimuli.
  • Focused attention: The ability to concentrate on a single target stimulus.
  • Divided attention: The ability to focus on two or more stimuli simultaneously; colloquially known as multitasking.


  • Memory: Learning that has persisted over time and information that has been stored and can be retrieved.
  • Encoding: The process of putting new information into memory.
  • Acoustic codes: The encoding of information as sequences of sounds.
  • Visual codes: The encoding of information as pictures.
  • Semantic codes: The encoding of information with respect to its meaning.
  • Imagery: A set of mental pictures that serves as an aid to effortful processing.
  • Self-reference effect: The tendency to recall information best when it is put into a personal context.
  • Maintenance rehearsal: Repetition of a piece of information to keep it within your active short-term memory.
  • Mnemonic: A memory aid, especially a technique that uses imagery and organizational devices.
  • Method of loci: A mnemonic technique that works by placing an image of each item to be remembered at particular points along an imaginary journey through a location.
  • Spacing effect: The tendency for distributed study to result in better, longer-term retention than other methods.
  • Recency effect: Enhanced memory of items at the end of a list.
  • Primacy effect: Enhanced memory of items at the start of a list.
  • Serial position effect: The tendency to most effectively recall the first and last several items in a list.
  • Chunking: A memory trick that involves taking individual elements of a large list and grouping them together into elements with related meaning.
  • Sensory memory: The stage of memory that holds an exact copy of incoming information for just a few seconds.
  • Iconic memory: Visual sensory memory.
  • Echoic memory: Auditory sensory memory.
  • Short-term memory: The memory system that holds small amounts of information for brief periods of time.

Check out our full Cognitive Psychology Notes!