Cognitive Theories: What They Are, Types and Examples

Cognitive Theories: What They Are, Types and Examples - Cognitivism, appeared in the sixties with the research of U. Neisser, who made the first theoretical formulation in Cognitive Psychology (1967), has expanded with the research of A. Collins, GA Mille…

Cognitivism, appeared in the sixties with the research of U. Neisser, who made the first theoretical formulation in Cognitive Psychology (1967), has expanded with the research of A. Collins, GA Miller, D. Norman, G. Mandler , DE Rumelhart, JS Bruner, to lead to a first doctrinal corpus with H. Gardner in The Science of the Mind (1985) and with M. Minksy in The Society of the Mind (1986), where the cognitivist position recognizes its debt to philosophy, anthropology, neuropsychology, computer science and cybernetics.

Therefore, cognitivism is not a psychological school, but an orientation that goes back to the different currents and psychological schools, opposing behaviorism in particular. Through this Psychology article we are going to see the different cognitive theories, what they are, types, examples, definitions and authors.

Cognitive theories of learning


First, we will see the definition of learning from cognitive theory. According to cognitive theories, learning is a cognitive process that has its origin in the need to build and structure the real , implicit in the interaction between the self and the environment, and is studied by analyzing the changes that occur in cognitive structures of the person and in his personality.

Cognitive psychology, in effect, shares with behaviorism the conviction that the study of learning must be objective and that theories of learning must spring from experimental evidence . While, however, behaviorist theories study learning as a "molecular" fact, analyzing stimulus-response connections, cognitive theories study learning as a "molar" fact, analyzing changes in the subject's cognitive structures and his personality.

According to Jerome BrunerAs a cognitively oriented psychologist and pedagogue, each individual possesses the intrinsic motives to learn, a concept that remains valid taking into account the cognitive motivation phenomena that may be conditioned for the adult. Bruner defined learning as the phenomenon of "getting information from someone using someone else's mind," an act of discovery, not a random event. It involves waiting to find regularity and reports in the environment, so solving problems through structured investigation strategies is an integral part of learning new notions. However, it must be added that, when examining the relationship between motivation and learning, multiple factors intervene that determine, according to various elements, the success of learning.Cognitive theories emphasize in particular the constructive nature of the learning process ; hypertextual patterns allow the subject to learn that he perceives himself as a constructor of the learning domain. In this article we talk about the theories of learning according to Bruner.

The cognitive matrix teaching methods aim to give students the possibility to observe, invent, discover cognitive strategies adapted to the given context. The teacher, offering ideas, feedback, builds a structure that will be useful for each student to autonomously control their learning processes. The educational and teaching systems based on cognitivism focus, therefore, on the transmission by the student of mental models that they must follow, acquiring cognitive skills and cognitive learning that allow them to act effectively.

In this article you will find more information about the cognitive theory of learning and Piaget's theory of cognitive development .

Cognitive theories of emotion


Fritz Heider (1958) seems to be the pioneer of cognitive theories of emotions, indicating the link between emotions and cognitive states and highlighting their reciprocal influence. Cognitive processes condition our emotions and vice versa.

  • For example, if an individual has admiration (pleasant emotion) for another, he may begin to believe (thoughts) that he possesses numerous virtues.
  • On the contrary, if you experience, for example, envy (unpleasant emotion) towards the other, you can attribute (thoughts) several negative characteristics to him. Therefore, our knowledge can be conditioned by the presence of an emotion.


The basis of modern cognitive theories of emotions can be found in that of Magda B. Arnold (1960), who, in addition to having had a direct and indirect influence on later theorists, suggested that the appraisal of an event is the basis of any emotional reaction. Emotions, with all the physiological changes related to them, begin with the cognitive evaluation of what happens in the environment (situational antecedents) and the same situation can provoke different emotions in different people, depending on the evaluation made. Hence, cognitive therapy aims to modify interpretations, thoughts and beliefs to generate other types of emotions accordingly. In this article on cognitive behavioral therapy we talk about cognitive techniques.

In the 1980s, more and more cognitive psychologists began to study emotions , hitherto the predominant interest of the psychodynamic tradition. Thanks to this attention theories multiplied assessment emotions, and an illustrative example was the model Stimulus Check Evaluation (SEC) Rainer Klaus Scherer (1984). The author proposed a network for the study of the evaluation process (appraisal) of an event-stimulus, very important since in relation to it the emotional reaction would be had. The multiplicity of the elements that concur in the process of evaluating the event, by the individual, would explain why the same eliciting situation can produce different emotions in different people. Later, Scherer (2001) himself revised his model, formulating the theory of sequential control of the differentiation of emotions.

In the same years, Ortony, Clore and Collins (1988) also studied the contribution of knowledge in emotional processes. From their theory, in which they also examine the relationships between events, agents and objects, we bring the idea that there is a kind of chain reaction that starts from the focus (conscious or unconscious) of the individual on an event, which induces an emotion , prepares you for action.

Cognitive theories of motivation


The theory of basic needs developed by McClelland marked a milestone in the study of cognitive determinants of motivation. David Mcclelland identifies three main reasons:

  • The need for success (or success) reflects the desire for success and the fear of failure.
  • The need to belong combines the desires for protection and sociality with the fear of rejection by others.
  • The need for power reflects the desire for dominance and the fear of dependency.


Individuals differ in the strength of each of these motives, in addition, situations vary in the degree to which they are related and stimulate one motive or another. A significant role is attributed to the cognitive processes that catalog the stimuli in relation to the motives, determining the nature and intensity of the motivating vectors, the implicit motives that drive action, originate from external incentives that trigger specific emotional reactions. Later, with learning, a cognitive scheme is developed that organizes these emotional reactions into positive and negative categories, thus delineating the stimuli that must be sought and those that must be removed. With experience and learning, an increasing number of situations are associated with these strong incentives,explicit motivation.

The attribution theory Weiner is based on retrospective judgments about the (internal or external) causes attributed to its performance.

  • People who attribute their achievements to their personal abilities, and their failures to insufficient commitment, perform more difficult tasks and persist despite failures.
  • Otherwise, those who associate their failures with capacity deficits and their successes with situational factors will tend to compromise little and readily give up early difficulties.


The expectation-value theory (JW Atkinson, VH Vroom, Fishbein and Ajzen) , in its various formulations, links motivation both to the expectation about the occurrence of certain results and to the attractiveness of such results. What distinguishes the different models is the type of motivation to which the theory is applied: for Atkinson (again proposing Mclelland's theory of basic needs) the motivation for success, for Ajzen and Fishbein the subjective norm, for Vroom the conviction that the behavior is achievable with commitment. In this article we talk about Vroom's expectation theory .

Finally, conscious goal-centered theories are based on the ability to set challenging goals and evaluate your own results is one of the main motivational mechanisms. Motivation expressed through the pursuit of challenging standards has been confirmed in the field of goal-choice research (Edwin A. Locke and Gary P. Latham's goal setting theory).

Cognitive theories of personality


Cognitive theories of personality began to develop in the second half of the 59s, had a wide expansion in the 60s and 70s and then they became a very followed current reference model in the therapy of personality disorders as well.

A first relevant theory, partially assimilable to the new cognitive approaches, is that elaborated by George R. Kelly : his theory of personal constructions affirms that the personality is an integrated organization based on schemes or constructions through which the individual knows, interprets and is modified in relation to the environment. The individual is a kind of scientist who lives life as an experiment, with predictions and verifications about the effects of his own behavior. Kelly's theory found wide application in clinical psychology and psychotherapy.

Also the research on cognitive styles by Hernán Witkin et al. (1954), by Leon Festinger on cognitive dissonance (1957), by George S. Klein on cognitive control of motivation and by Fritz Heider on attribution (1958), contributed to the cognitive change in the study of personality in the 1960s.

The internal debate of the theories of personality on the given relief or the structure of the person or the environmental situation was oriented towards the conception of a dynamic interaction between person and environment guided by expectations, goals, schemes, constructions and the self-regulation of the individual. The most important contributions in this historical evolution towards an interactionist theory on cognitive foundations are those of Albert Bandura and Walter Mischel . In this approach, in which the person and the social environment are in interaction, the overflow of personality psychology into social psychology, and vice versa, is inevitable.

The attribution theory , elaborated by Heider and developed by several psychologists, was proposed at the same time as an explanation of both personality and social behavior: the subject of social representations constitutes an example of a current field of research in which they intersect individual cognitive processes and social contexts.

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