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Model Answer for Question 5 Paper 2: AS Psychology, June 2016 (AQA)

AS, A-Level

Last updated 14 May 2017

Section A - Approaches in Psychology

05 Outline two features of the cognitive approach. Explain two limitations of the cognitive approach. [8 marks]

Suggested Answer: One feature of the cognitive approach is the use of theoretical models. Models enable the representation of complex cognitive processes so that their components can be better understood. An example of this is the multi-store model of memory which presents a picture of memory based on an information-processing analogy. Theoretical models also provide a basis for research.

A second feature of the cognitive approach is the information processing theory known as schema theory. This theory emphasises how perception and memory are shaped by cognitive frameworks built from experience that organise and interpret information in the brain (acting as a mental representation). Schemas allow us to make sense of an often ambiguous world by “filling in the gaps” in our knowledge and thus enable us to act comfortably even when our information is incomplete.

One limitation of the cognitive approach is the claim that our mind is like a computer, which is often implied through the use of computer models. Many people argue that humans are very different from computers. For example, we have emotions, we forget things, and we make mistakes, unlike computers. This matters because the use of computer models and analogies provides a weak comparison to human thinking and behaviour, and provides us with little insight into the complexities of human thinking.

A second limitation of the cognitive approach is the over-reliance on laboratory-based experiments which can often lack ecological validity. For example, research examining memory (e.g. Peterson & Peterson, etc.) often reduces complex human behaviour (memory) to a single variable for testing (e.g. the duration of STM). This matters because many psychologists argue that this experimentally reductionist approach overlooks a detailed understanding of human behaviour and therefore limits the generalisability of the findings to everyday human memory. [290 words]

Exam Hint: Students often struggle to explain limitations of the cognitive approach and sometimes fail to develop their evaluation at all. Some students tried to argue that ‘schemas’ are a limitation as they lead to stereotypes; however, this is a narrow-minded interpretation because this understanding can be used to deal with stereotypes in society. Furthermore, students need be careful with their language or phrasing and not take an extreme view, e.g. that cognitive psychologists ignore ALL other factors because this simply isn’t correct. Therefore, students need to construct more coherent discussions in relation to the limitations (as shown above), although this is particularly tricky to do for an eight-mark essay and requires practice. 

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