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date: 30 July 2021

Introduction to the Handbook

Abstract and Keywords

This brief opening chapter outlines and celebrates the enormous progress cognitive psychology has made in the last 50 years. It discusses some of the principles that guided the selection of topics for this handbook and then provides a brief road map for the handbook’s overall organization.

Keywords: introduction, cognitive psychology, history

For many years, I playfully began my undergraduate Cognition course by telling students: “The field of Cognitive Psychology began when I was born.” I would give the class a moment to gasp at this stunning bit of narcissism, and then I would deliver the clarification: “Let’s be clear, though, that there’s no cause and effect here; I’m just trying to let you know how long this field’s been around.”

Of course, this opening gambit worked more effectively—and led to the point I was after—when I was young. Then I could use the joke to convey that the field of Cognition was also youthful, and I could celebrate how much the field had achieved in just a few decades. But I am no longer a young man, and (far more interesting) the field of Cognition has reached an age that no longer counts as youthful. Indeed, Donald Broadbent’s Perception and Communication and Jerry Bruner’s A Study in Thinking were both published more than 50 years ago (in 1958 and 1956, respectively). George Miller’s “magic number” paper is of comparable vintage (published in 1956). Dick Neisser’s remarkable textbook (Cognitive Psychology)—a book that drew many of us into the field—was published in 1967.

The decades have been fabulously fruitful for us. If we consider only our “internal products,” we could point to the proliferation of specialized journals, or—perhaps better—the frequent contributions of cognitive psychologists to journals that reach everyone in our field (e.g., Psychological Review and Psychological Science) or journals that reach other scientists (e.g., Nature and Science). Alternatively, we can consider our “exports,” including the many applications of our field (to questions in the justice system, questions about education, question about business decision making, and more). We can also consider a different type of export: books that carry our work out of the journals and into the minds of a broader audience (e.g., Ariely, 2010; Chabris & Simons, 2011; Gilbert, 2007; Kahneman, 2011; Lederer, 2010; Nisbett, 2009; Pinker, 2009; Schwartz, 2005). Or, as one last measure, we can look to the future and ask how psychology is training its students: Courses in cognition are available in almost every department, and there is a proliferation of textbooks ( offers more than a dozen) for instructors to choose from.

By any of these measures, it is clear that cognitive psychologists are generating a lot of new ideas and a lot of new information, and it is also clear that many have found considerable value in this information. We can, in short, be proud of what our 50-plus years of effort have produced.

(p. 2) I offer these entry comments not just as a “feel-good” message for my colleagues but also as a partial explanation for why this handbook has come to be. As cognitive psychology has matured, we have developed research tools and theoretical frameworks that have allowed us to explore a broad array of topics. In the same vein, the depth of our understanding, as well as the methodological and theoretical sophistication, has also grown in wonderful ways. We can, of course, celebrate these increases in breadth and depth, but there is also a price to be paid: We have all been forced to specialize more and more, to keep up with our “corner” of cognition. With that, it has become increasingly difficult to maintain the status of cognitive generalist. Thus, researchers in autobiographical memory can drift out of touch with research on semantic memory; researchers focused on working memory (and so sometimes concerned with executive function) might have difficulty keeping up with research on judgment (often concerned with executive function).

These are common problems in any burgeoning field, and handbooks like this one are a key part of the repair—allowing researchers in one corner of the field to instruct researchers in other domains. Indeed, independent of my role as editor, let me say as a reader that I happily express my gratitude to the authors of this handbook’s many chapters: I learned a great deal from them, and I’m certainly appreciative of coverage in the chapters that is broader in its view and more cohesive than, say, a journal article; more advanced than one would find in a textbook; and less intermittent than, say, an Annual Review article. In these (and other) ways, handbooks like this one serve an essential role—for aspiring generalists who might choose to read the book cover to cover, and for the many of us who are simply curious to know what is going on in other cognition laboratories working on other problems.

What is in the handbook? In designing the volume, I did what I could to cover all of cognitive psychology. I hasten to say, though, that I did not achieve this lofty goal because of space limitations, author availability, and my own errors in overlooking this or that important topic; of course, I regret all of these shortcomings.

It is also far from clear what it would mean for a handbook to cover “all of cognitive psychology.” The problem, obviously, is that the boundaries of our field are difficult to locate. Even if we could neatly identify certain research topics as “cognitive,” it is plain that we can gain insight into these topics by drawing on research in allied fields. Hence, the separation between cognitive psychology and social psychology can, for some research questions, seem arbitrary; likewise the separation between cognitive and developmental psychology. In the same vein, the study of language and the study of emotion are both powerful scientific endeavors, important in their own right. But these domains are surely intertwined with the topics traditionally regarded as “cognitive,” and so it seems foolish to hold language or emotion to the side when we study cognition.

Guided by these sentiments, I have aimed for coverage in this handbook that errs on the side of inclusion. To be sure, the volume’s coverage of social or developmental topics and its coverage of language and emotion are (at best) selective and therefore incomplete. My hope, though, is that the book covers at least some of the major points of connection between cognitive psychology and these other intellectual domains.

I should also note that, in choosing authors, I have done what I could to include many influential, persuasive, well-established figures in our field. But I have also done what I could to include younger colleagues—largely because, in obvious ways, they are our field’s future, and so, by keeping track of their work and their views, we gain an understanding of our field’s forward trajectory.

I have also aimed, in this book, for a mix of didactic, largely neutral, “tutorial” chapters and also chapters that plainly and powerfully represent a particular research team’s point of view. After all, cognitive psychology includes a mix of well-established consensus claims and more contentious arguments, and I wanted both in the book. To be sure, a handbook seemed not the place to emphasize the latter, but I did want the book to reflect the vitality of the field, and that vitality is most easily seen in the claims that are still being energetically and productively debated.

One last point about the book’s coverage is complicated, because it hinges on the relationship between cognitive psychology and cognitive neuroscience. As it turns out, Oxford University Press is publishing two separate handbooks—this one, focused on cognitive psychology, and a separate volume covering cognitive neuroscience. Is this sensible? On the one hand, cognitive neuroscience is itself a sophisticated discipline with its own methods, its own theoretical framework, and its own questions. This sophistication will inevitably increase in the coming years, as neuroscientists build on new data, new ideas, and new technology. For these reasons, cognitive neuroscience must be understood as an (p. 3) independent field and will surely become more independent, more autonomous in times to come. Hence, it makes sense that we should give the field the respect (and page count) it deserves, and so keep the topics separate, each in its own volume.

With this, many cognitive psychologists believe that our field risks overstating the value of neuroscience. To be sure, insights from neuroscience are enormously important, and data from neuroscience can help us resolve long-standing debates. Even so, psychology’s increasing emphasis on neuroscience, some might suggest, can lead us to lose track of lessons learned, perhaps decades earlier, from behavioral results. Related, some have complained that the understandable excitement about neuroscience can sometimes draw attention away from questions and problems that are best explored through other means. On these grounds, too, we should separate the volumes, so that cognitive psychology itself gets the respect (and page count) it needs.

There is, however, also an argument in the opposite direction—for integrating the two fields and (perhaps) the two OUP handbooks: Cognitive neuroscience inevitably and necessarily builds on an understanding of how cognitive processes function, and so in that way depends on cognitive psychology. Likewise, cognitive psychologists must pay close attention to the results provided by cognitive neuroscience, results that can provide tests of our claims, and sometimes constrain our claims, and often enrich our claims. In this fashion, there is a mutual dependence between these two fields, and this dependence is likely to grow in the coming years: Each discipline will learn more, and so have more to export to the other. Each discipline will therefore have more and more reason to keep track of what is going on in the other.

For all of these reasons, we handicap ourselves by separating psychology and the relevant neuroscience. Indeed, I have already suggested that the point of a handbook is to allow investigators in one domain to learn about (useful, interesting) insights in other domains. Hence, the last thing we would want to do is leave an important source of these insights out of the present volume.

The resolution of this quandary is perhaps inevitable: On one side, there are compelling reasons to separate the handbook of cognitive psychology and the handbook of cognitive neuroscience, just as Oxford has. On the other side, there is a clear need to link the volumes. The best we can do, therefore, is to keep the books separate but hope colleagues will read both. In addition, for some topics, the exchange between cognition psychology and cognitive neuroscience is actively under way. For other topics, the exchange is an exciting prospect but not yet in view. It cannot be surprising, therefore, that some chapters in the present volume include coverage of neuroscience topics; others do not. How this mix will play out over the next decade is, I think, a topic for psychologists to ponder, as we try to anticipate the forward trajectory of our field.

Overall, the handbook is divided into 13 sections. I hope this ordering is helpful, although other sequences could easily be defended. Even with this point acknowledged, I hope the ordering aids the reader in navigating through these 1076 pages.

Part 1 tackles a set of issues pertinent to how we gain information about the visual world. Peterson and Kimchi (Chapter 2) discuss the issue of how we organize the information provided to us by vision, and then Hummel (Chapter 3) turns to the problem of how we recognize the objects we have now organized. Rhodes (Chapter 4) tackles a more specialized form of recognition: the recognition of faces. Then Henderson (Chapter 5) turns to an issue crucial for all aspects of perception: how we move our eyes. In the section’s last chapter, Tversky and Zacks (Chapter 6) broaden the questions, by asking how we perceive complex real-world events.

Part 2 is concerned with a cluster of topics linking attention and awareness. Rensink (Chapter 7) links this part to the concerns of Part 1, discussing the interplay between perception and attention. Then, in Chapter 8, Cave turns to a key issue for visual attention: how we manage to focus our attention on discrete regions of space. In Chapter 9, Logie tackles directly an issue that comes up in many chapters: what we can learn from cases of brain damage, and, in particular, disorders of attention. In Chapter 10, however, Franconeri turns a critical eye on a notion that plays a large role in many theories of attention: the notion of visual resources. Then, in Chapter 11, Moors considers a set of claims in which (traditionally) resources have played a large role, namely, the idea of automaticity. Finally, in Chapter 12, Kihlstrom casts a wide net, confronting issues that are pertinent to this section and to many others, when he examines the broad notion of unconscious processes.

Part 3 focuses on memory. In Chapter 13, Gallo and Wheeler summarize what is known about episodic memory; in Chapter 14, McRae and Jones discuss semantic memory; in Chapter 15, Mulligan and Besken describe implicit memory. Then, in Chapter 16, Laney explores a domain with profound (p. 4) pragmatic applications as well as theoretical interest—the nature and sources of memory errors. In Chapter 17, however, Leboe and Whittlesea offer an alternative view of all these memory issues, challenging us with their SCAPE framework. Then the next three chapters turn to key but (for some readers) less familiar aspects of memory: In Chapter 18, Bugg, McDaniel, and Einstein explore the key issue of prospective memory, that is, the challenge of remembering, in the future, to carry out present intentions. Dunlosky and Thiede (Chapter 19) discuss the topic of metamemory—the sense that each of us has of our own memory and the functions that this self-monitoring has. Finally, Chapter 20, by Marsh and Butler, picks up a set of questions that again have both pragmatic implications and theoretical power: the functioning of memory in educational settings.

Part 4 is concerned with the nature of knowledge and mental representation. Markman and Rein (in Chapter 21) explore mental concepts. Johnson’s coverage (Chapter 22) is the first of several chapters that explore how our claims (and, specifically, claims about concepts) need to be tuned when we consider people with differing levels of expertise or people living in different cultures. Wills (Chapter 23) discusses a different—but deeply important—approach to concepts: the development of formal models to express and test our theories of categorization. In Chapter 24, Pecher then argues for an alternative approach to mental categories, one that is grounded in sensory-motor processes. Then, related, Reisberg (Chapter 25) summarizes what is known about mental representations of a different sort: visual mental images.

Part 5 turns to some of the points of contact between cognitive psychology and the broad study of language. In Chapter 26, Mattys describes the state of the art in speech perception; Chapter 27, by Magnuson, Mirman, and Myers, then builds on this base in exploring the broad issue of spoken word recognition. Chapter 28, by Rayner and Pollatsek, is also concerned with language—but via the visual modality—and explores basic processes in reading. (And I would urge readers to explore the parallels between the coverage in these three chapters, on language-related perception, and the coverage in Part 1, concerned with other aspects of perception.) Chapters 29, by Gernsbacher and Kaschak, and 30, by Graesser and Forsyth, are linked, both exploring how people perceive and understand larger units of language; Chapter 29 emphasizes text comprehension; Chapter 30 explores discourse comprehension. Then Koenig and Cole (Chapter 31) turn to the issue of how children launch the process of word learning; Gleitman and Papafragou (Chapter 32) summarize the state of the art on the interplay between language and thought. (These two chapters are rich with implications for, and can also be enriched by, themes in Part 2 and Part 4, addressing the nature of mental representation.) The final chapter in this section, by Bickerton (Chapter 33) introduces a perspective that can often guide cognitive research and theorizing, examining the likely evolution of language.

For many years, theorists have assumed that cognitive and emotional factors were separable and often in tension with each other. In recent years, however, we have seen many reasons to challenge this perspective, and Part 6 samples some of the scholarship in this domain. Gendron, Mesquita, and Barrett (Chapter 34) consider how we perceive emotion (and so this chapter can be read in conjunction with the materials in Part 1). Hoschedit, Dongaonkar, Payne, and Nadel (Chapter 35) discuss the interplay between emotion, stress, and memory (and this chapter should probably be read in conjunction with materials in Part 3). Huntsinger and Schnall (Chapter 36) then survey emotion–cognition interactions more broadly, laying out the argument for why we must not separate these domains. Boden and Gross (Chapter 37) then work through an intriguing issue in this arena: the tie between emotion regulation and belief change.

Parts 7, 8, and 9 span a range of topics concerned with what is sometimes called “higher order cognition” but is more plainly called “thinking.” Part 7 begins with chapters on judgment and reasoning: Newell (Chapter 38) surveys judgment under uncertainty, Hayes and Heit (Chapter 39) tackle the related issue of induction, and Evans (Chapter 40) explores the problem of reasoning. The next two chapters describe specific routes toward judgment and reasoning: Johnson-Laird (Chapter 41) describes the role of mental models, and Gentner and Smith (Chapter 42) focus on the role of analogies and analogical learning. Then the last two chapters in Part 7 turn to the issue of choice, with Speekenbrink and Shanks (Chapter 43) describing how people make decisions and Schwartz and Sommers (Chapter 44) surveying the broad problem of affective forecasting and its relation to well-being.

Part 8 narrows the focus somewhat and considers three more specialized types of reasoning: Schultheis and Carlson (Chapter 45) consider spatial reasoning, Waldmann and Hagmayer (Chapter 46) turn (p. 5) to reasoning about causal relationships, and then Young (Chapter 47) considers how people think about moral issues.

Part 9’s chapters turn to a problem that has a considerable amount of folklore associated with it: the domain of problem solving and creativity. Mayer (Chapter 48) describes what is known about problem solving. Fleck, Beeman, and Kounios (Chapter 49) turn to the achievement called “insight.” Simonton and Damian (Chapter 50) describe research on creativity.

For many years, Cognitive Psychology emphasized principles that described all humans; consideration of individual differences was consigned to a separate endeavor termed psychometrics. This trend has shifted in the last years, and so Part 10 contains a trio of chapters on how we differ. Kaufman, Kaufman, and Plucker (Chapter 51) describe current theorizing about intelligence. Rizzi and Posthuma (Chapter 52) then help the reader grasp the likely genetic roots of differences in intelligence. Kozhevnikov (Chapter 53) turns to the differences, from one person to the next, in cognitive style.

Cognitive Psychology has also traditionally emphasized “input processes” and then mentation about the things we have perceived. But what about the “output” side of things, and action? Some of the earlier chapters have already suggested that this “input/output” distinction may be unwise (e.g., Chapter 24). Part 11, however, tackles directly this broad issue and includes three chapters on practice and skilled performance. Rosenbaum (Chapter 54) describes the planning and implementation of physical action. Uttal and Meadow (Chapter 55) consider the impact of practice. Then Ericsson and Towne (Chapter 56) explore the sometimes extraordinary level of performance achieved by experts.

Finally, the last two parts of the book draw on domains often considered separate from Cognitive Psychology, but unmistakably these fields are our allies, with prospect for information exchange in both directions. Part 12 turns to the social and cultural context. Bauer and Baumeister (Chapter 57) discuss self-knowledge, Moskowitz and Gill (Chapter 58) consider person perception, and Samson (Chapter 59) considers the cognition we have about others, knowledge typically termed “theory of mind.” In Chapter 60, Bodenhausen and Gawronski discuss the topic of attitude change. Finally, Miyamoto and Wilken (Chapter 61) describe the crucial importance of cultural differences in cognition.

The handbook’s final part, Part 13, then briefly delves into developmental issues. In Chapter 62, Morasch, Raj, and Bell explore the development of cognitive control. In Chapter 63, Reynolds, Courage, and Richards discuss the development of attention. Finally, Verhaeghen (Chapter 64) considers the other end of the life span and discusses cognitive aging.

Then, in the handbook’s ultimate chapter, I as editor take on the daunting but enjoyable task of offering some general remarks, trying to say a few words about our field overall and also reflecting on the pleasure I have found in putting this handbook together.


Ariely D. (2010). Predictably irrational, revised and expanded edition: The hidden forces that shape our decisions. New York : Harper.Find this resource:

Chabris C., & Simons D. (2011). The invisible gorilla: How our intuitions deceive us. New York : Broadway.Find this resource:

Gilbert D. (2007). Stumbling on happiness. New York : Vintage.Find this resource:

Kahneman D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. New York : Farrar, Straus, & Giroux.Find this resource:

Lederer J. (2010). How we decide. New York : Mariner Books.Find this resource:

Nisbett R. (2009). Intelligence and how to get it. New York : Norton.Find this resource:

Pinker S. (2009). How the mind works. New York : Norton.Find this resource:

Schwartz B. (2005). The paradox of choice: Why more is less. New York : Harper Perennial. (p. 6) Find this resource: