Cognitive Psychology References

Cognitive psychology is the study of mental processes such as “attention, language use, memory, perception, problem solving, creativity, and thinking.


Recall versus Recognition

Recall is more difficult and time consuming, while recognition is easier and faster.

Von Restorff Effect (The Isolation Effect)

People are more likely to remember something if it’s distinct and stands out. Predicts that when multiple similar objects are present, the one that differs from the rest is most likely to be remembered.

(George) Miller’s Law

The average number of objects that can be held in working memory is seven.


In general usage, a ‘chunk’ means a piece or part of something larger. In the field of cognitive psychology, a chunk is an organizational unit in memory.

Working Memory Vs. Short-Term Memory

Working memory and short-term memory are often used interchangeably, but they are slightly different. Working memory handles the processing of information, whereas short-term memory is more like a scratch pad for information that’s important but not important enough for long-term memory.

Decision Making

Hick’s (Hick-Hymen) Law

Describes the time it takes for a person to make a decision as a result of the possible choices he or she has: increasing the number of choices will increase the decision time logarithmically.

Hick's Law Equation

Hick's Law Graphic

Choice Paralysis


Hobson’s Choice

Is a free choice in which only one option is actually offered. The idea behind Hobson’s Choice is that your so-called ‘choice’ is to take or refuse the one option presented. In other words, you really don’t have much of a choice at all!


John Sweller

3 Types of Load

  1. Cognitive Load
  2. Visual Load
  3. Motor Load

In order of most expensive on mental energy.

Ego Depletion

Refers to the idea that self-control and other mental processes that require focused conscious effort rely on energy that can be used up. When that energy is low (rather than high), mental activity that requires self-control is impaired. Reference: Baumeister et al. - Ego Depletion (1998)

Decision Fatigue

Refers to the deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual, after a long session of decision making.

Serial Position Effect

People recall the first and last of items in a series best, and the middle items worst.

Zeigarnik Effect

People remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks better than completed tasks.

Picture Superiority Effect

Concepts are much more likely to be remembered if they are presented as pictures rather than words.

Picture Encoding Theories

  1. Paivio’s Dual Coding Theory - Picture stimuli have an advantage over word stimuli because they are dually encoded; they generate a verbal and image code, whereas word stimuli only generate a verbal code.
  2. Nelson’s Sensory Semantic Theory - Pictures are perceptually more distinct from one another than are words, thus increasing their chance for retrieval. And pictures are also believed to assess meaning more directly than words.

Inattentional Blindness (Perceptual Blindness)

A psychological lack of attention that is not associated with any vision defects or deficits, essentially an individual has a limited attention and can only notice so many things. Example: The Monkey Business Illusion (Invisible Gorilla)

Selective Disregard - ignoring what appears unrelated to the task at hand.

Stimulus-response compatibility

The degree to which what people perceive is consistent with the actions they need to take. The less compatible the long the reaction time. Ex. Arrows that point to the next input field where the input fields are vertically positioned - up/down arrows = faster reaction time; left/right = slower reaction time.

Systemizer Vs Empathizer (Extreme Male Brain)

Maslov’s Hierarchy of Needs

Maslov's Hierarchy of Needs Graphic


Created by: Joe Steinkamp | Last updated by: Joe Steinkamp