AP Psych Chapter 07: Cognition


Thinking and Mental Images

Thinking/Cognition is defined as mental activity that goes on in the brain when a person is processing information (organizing it, understanding it, and communicating it to others).

Mental images are picture-like representations of objects and events.  It can help you locate a parked car, figure out if furniture will fit into a space, create a daydream, and so much more.  People are even able to mentally rotate images in their head using their “mind’s eye.”  The visual cortex is activated when processing mental images.



Concepts are ideas that represent a class or category of objects, events, or activities.  Concepts contain key features of the object or event but does allow new objects and events to be identified.  Example of this might be the various breeds of dogs.

  • Superordinate concept is the most general form of a type of concept, such as “animal” or “fruit.”
  • Basic level type is an example of a type of concept around which other similar concepts are organized, such as “dog,” “cat,” or “pear.”
  • Subordinate concept is the most specific category of a concept, such as one’s pet dog or a pear in one’s hand.  Examples of this would be a granny smith apple or a golden retriever.

Formal concepts are concepts that are defined by specific rules or features.  An example of this would be a shapes such as squares and triangles. In psychology, examples include sleep stages and conditioned stimuli.

Natural concepts are concepts people form as a result of their experiences in the real world.  Examples of this might be a vehicle and mammals.  Natural concepts can be “fuzzy” because certain objects or events may have some but not all of the features required to meet a specific concept.  For instance, is platypus a bird or a mammal?  It has features of both species.

Prototype is an example of a concept that closely matches the defining characteristics of a concept.  For instance, when someone says think of fruit most people in this area may envision an apple or orange.  This is a prototype.  It can vary by culture or region.  If someone asked a person in Hawaii to think of a fruit, the first thing that might come to his or her mind is a coconut.



Problem solving is a process of cognition that occurs when a goal must be reached by thinking and behaving in certain ways. Some of the types of problem solving are:

  • Trial and error (mechanical solution) is a problem-solving method in which one possible solution after another is tried until a successful one is found.  An example is not remembering a password for a website.
  • Algorithms are very specific, step-by-step procedures for solving certain types of problems.  Example includes mathematical equations, a Rubik’s Cube, and locating books in a library.  Computers usually solve algorithms much faster than humans.
  • Heuristic is an educated guess based on prior experiences that helps narrow down the possible solutions for a problem. Also known as a “rule of thumb.”  Using a heuristic is faster than an algorithm but not always accurate.  An example of this would be if you were using Textedit instead of Microsoft Word and you want to change the spacing between the lines.  Based on your experience in Word you would probably look at the tool bar and go to the Format option.  Another example is names and/or race.
  • Means–end analysis is a heuristic in which the difference between the starting situation and the goal is determined and then steps are taken to reduce that difference.
  • Insight is a sudden perception of a solution to a problem.  The “Ah-ha” moment.  This is not magic, the brain is simply reorganizing the problem (usually when the person is not completely focused on the problem).


Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) is the creation of a machine that can think like a human.  True flexibility of human thought processes has yet to be developed in a machine.


Problem-Solving Barriers

The three types of problem-solving barriers are:

  • Functional fixedness is a block to problem solving that comes from thinking about objects in terms of only their typical functions.  Mistaken belief that an object can only be used for one specific purpose.  For example, tightening a flat-head screw.  A person might look around for 15 minutes for a flat-head screw driver when something like a butter knife might be just as effective.
  • Mental set is the tendency for people to persist in using problem-solving patterns that have worked for them in the past.  People are sometimes unable to think of other solutions because they are fixated on what has worked in the past.  For example, lets say you had a problem with the Bluetooth on your phone last month but eventually you fixed.  Now you got a new car and cannot get the Bluetooth to connect.  You spend hours fidgeting with your phone trying to make it work when the issue is actually the new car.
  • Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for evidence that fits one’s beliefs while ignoring any evidence that does not fit those beliefs.  For example, believing that a ghost is knocking a book off a shelf despite the fact that shelf is not level.


Divergent and Convergent Thinking

Creativity is the process of solving problems by combining ideas or behavior in new ways.

Convergent thinking is the type of thinking in which a problem is seen as having only one answer, and all lines of thinking will eventually lead to that single answer, using previous knowledge and logic.  Works well for routine problem solving but is of little use when a more creative solution is needed.  An example of this might be listing the similarities between a train and an airplane.

Divergent thinking is the type of thinking in which a person starts from one point and comes up with many different ideas or possibilities based on that point (kind of creativity).  People tend to think more divergently during automatic tasks.  An example of this might be to list all of the possible reasons a person would prefer to take a train instead of a airplane.  In certain societies (like Japan) divergent thinking is not culturally valued.  Tradition is considered more important.


Stimulating Divergent Thinking

Brainstorming is generating as many ideas as possible in a short period of time without judging each idea’s merit until all ideas are recorded.

Keeping a Journal is carrying a journal to write down ideas as they occur or a recorder to capture those same ideas and thoughts.

Freewriting is writing down or recording everything that comes to mind about a topic without revising or proofreading until all the information is written or recorded in some way.  Organize it later.

Mind or Subject Mapping starts with a central ideas and draws a “map” with lines from the center to other related ideas, forming a mental image of the concept and their connections.



Intelligence is the ability to learn from one’s experiences, acquire knowledge, and use resources effectively in adapting to new situations or solving problems.


The Spearman Two-Factor Theory

Charles Spearman was the first to objectively measure intelligence.  The psychometric approach measures cognitive abilities or factors that are thought to be involved in intellectual performance.

Spearman ‘s Two-Factor Theory says that intelligence has two factors:

  • A general mental ability factor (g) which represents what different cognitive tasks have in common
  • Many specific factors (s), which include mental abilities (mathematical, verbal, mechanical, etc.)

The g is still used today by psychologists. The Spearman g is still the most popular intelligence theory.


Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence Scale

Gardner’s multiple-intelligence believes that intelligence should not be a single number score – instead of one general intelligence, there are at least 7 different kinds.  It includes testing the following areas:

  • Verbal/linguistic – Ability to use language
  • Musical –  Ability to compose and/or perform music
  • Logical/mathematical – Ability to think logically and to solve mathematical problems
  • Visual/spatial – Ability to understand how objects are oriented in space
  • Movement – Ability to control one’s body motions
  • Interpersonal – Sensitivity to others and understanding motivation of others
  • Intrapersonal – Understanding of one’s emotions and how they guide actions
  • Naturalist – Ability to recognize the patterns found in nature
  • Existentialist – Ability to see the “big picture” of the human world by asking questions about life, death, and the ultimate reality of human existence

Gardner came to this theory after studying people with brain damage, paying specific attention to savants.


Sternburg’s Triarchic Theory

Sternburg’s Triarchic Theory analyzes the cognitive steps that people use in problem solving.  Intelligence can be divided into three ways of gathering and processing information (triarchic means three).  These three ways are:

  • Uses analytical or logical thinking skills that are measured by traditional intelligences test
  • Uses creative problem-solving skills that require imaginative thinking and the ability to learn from experience
  • Uses practical thinking skills that help a person to adjust, and cope with, his or her socio-cultural environment


Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is awareness of and ability to manage one’s own emotions as well as the ability to be self-motivated, able to feel what others feel, and socially skilled. Viewed as a powerful influence on success in life.


The Stanford-Binet Test

Alfred Binet believed intelligence was a collection of mental abilities and the best way to assess intelligence was to measure a person’s ability to perform cognitive tasks.  His first test was designed to separate children with special needs from those with normal intelligence.  The three class were:

  • Idiots (most severe)
  • Imbeciles (moderate)
  • Morons (mild)

The Binet-Simon Intelligence Scale contains items arranged in order of increasing difficulty.  The items measured vocabulary, memory, common knowledge, and other cognitive abilities.  He said there are certain abilities children should be able to do at specific ages.

Mental age is a method of estimating a child’s intellectual progress by comparing the child’s score on an intelligence test to the score of average children of the same age.


Calculating IQ

The intelligence quotient (IQ) is computed by dividing a child’s mental age (measured by IQ test) by a child’s chronological age and multiplying by 100.  This formula was created by Lewis Terman.

IQ = (Mental age/Chronological age) x 100

Let say Sarah, a 18-year-old student, was given an IQ test and her mental age was 20.
IQ = (20/18) x 100
IQ = 1.11 x100
IQ = 111

If a person’s mental age matches up perfectly with their chronological age then he/she has a 100 which is the most average score one can get.  If the mental age is greater than the chronological age than the IQ will be greater than 100.  If the chronological age is greater than the mental age than the IQ will be less than 100.


Wechsler Intelligence Scale

Wechsler Intelligence Tests yield a verbal score and a performance score, as well as an overall score of intelligence.

Originally dissatisfied with the fact that the Stanford-Binet was designed for children but being administered to adults, Weschler developed an IQ test specifically for adults. He later designed tests specifically for older school-age children and preschool children as well as those in the early grades. The Wechlser Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS-IV), Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC-IV), and the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence (WPPSI-III) are the three versions of this test, and in the United States these tests are  now used more frequently than the Stanford-Binet. These tests differ from the Stanford-Binet in that they each have a verbal and a performance (nonverbal) scale, as well as providing an overall score of intelligence.


Test Construction

Validity is the degree to which test measures what it’s supposed to measure.  For example, if you were taking an algebra test and there was a question about Shakespeare, it would have low validity.

Reliability is the tendency of test to yield same results given same conditions.  For example, you took a test on the water cycle on science class and recieved a 100 on it.  The teacher then gives you a test on it 2 weeks later and you get a 42.  The teacher then gives another test on it 3 weeks later and you score a 76.  The scores are all over the place and therefore would have low reliability.


Standardization and the Normal Curve

Standardization refers to the process of giving the test to a large group of people that represents the kind of people for whom the test is designed.

Norms scores from the standardization group; the standards against which all others who take the test would be compared.

Deviation IQ is a type of intelligence measure that assumes IQ is normally distributed around a mean of 100 with a standard deviation of about 15.

  • 68% of all people achieve a score between 85 to 115 (15 points above and below a score of 100)
  • 28% of all people achieve a score between a 70 to 85 (14%) and 115 to 130 (14%).  They would be one standard deviation above or below the most average score of 100.
  • 4% of all people achieve a score between a 55 to 70 (2%) and 130 to 145 (2%).  They would be two standard deviations above or below the most average score of 100.
  • There is no numeric limit to intelligence (a person could achieve a score of 200).  There is no way to achieve a score of zero intelligence.


IQ and Cultural Issues

Cultural bias refers to the tendency of IQ tests to reflect, in language, dialect, and content, the culture of the persons designing the test.  People from the same culture as the test designer may have an unfair advantage.

Culturally fair tests require the use of non-verbal abilities such as mental rotation of objects.


Mental Retardation

Developmentally delayed is a condition in which a person’s behavioral and cognitive skills exist at an earlier developmental stage than the skills of others who are the same chronological age. A more acceptable term for mental retardation.

Mental retardation or developmental delay is a condition in which IQ falls below 70 and adaptive behavior is severely deficient for a person of a particular chronological age.

Four levels of delay are:

  • Mild: 55–70 IQ – Can reach a 6th-grade skill level.  Capable of holding a job, living independently, and being self-supporting. (90%)
  • Moderate: 40–55 IQ – Can reach 2nd-grade skill level.  Can work and live in sheltered environment with supervision. (6%)
  • Severe: 25–40 – IQ Can talk and perform basic self-care. Requires constant supervision. (3%)
  • Profound: Below 25 IQ – Limited language and ability to learn. Requires constant care. (1%)

Causes of developmental delay include deprived environments, as well as chromosome and genetic disorders and dietary deficiencies.



The gifted make up 2 percent of the population falling on the upper end of the normal curve and typically possessing an IQ of 130 or above.

Terman conducted a longitudinal study (a study that takes place over the course of years) that demonstrated that gifted children grow up to be successful adults for the most part. Terman’s study has been criticized for a lack of objectivity because he became too involved in the lives of his participants, even to the point of interfering on their behalf.

More recent studies have shown there is little correlation between high intelligence scores and future success/wealth.  Personality is the X-factor.



Language is a system for combining symbols (such as words) so that an unlimited number of meaningful statements can be made for the purpose of communicating with others.


Elements and Structure of Language

Grammar is the system of rules governing the structure and use a of language. (Chomsky’s LAD)

Syntax is the system of rules for combining words and phrases to form grammatically correct sentences.

Morphemes is the smallest units of meaning within a language.  Semantics is the rules for determining the meaning of words and sentences.

Phonemes is the basic units of sound in language.

Pragmatics are aspects of language involving the practical ways of communicating with others, or the social “niceties” of language.


Language and Cognition

Linguistic relativity hypothesis is the theory that thought processes and concepts are controlled by language.

Cognitive universalism is the theory that concepts are universal and influence the development of language.


Animal Language

Studies have been somewhat successful in demonstrating that animals can develop a basic kind of language, including some abstract ideas.

Controversy exists over the lack of evidence that animals can learn syntax, which some feel means that animals are not truly learning and using language.