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How To Become A Cognitive Psychologist: Degree & Career Guide

While many subfields of psychology look at how mental processes interact with behavior, the field of cognitive psychology focuses solely on the mental processes of the human mind. This field focuses solely on the cognition of the brain.

From memories to learning, and even language, cognitive psychology delves deep into the unseen aspects of the mind.

To become a cognitive psychologist, you would need to obtain a bachelor's degree, choose a field of specialization, earn a graduate degree preferably in the form of a doctoral degree, gain field-related experience, obtain your license and certification, and then seek a role as a cognitive psychologist.

Let us take a closer look at this career path and the steps you would need to follow to pursue this career path.

What Is A Cognitive Psychologist?

Cognitive psychologists seek to discover and break down all the mental processes of the mind.

There is a strange notion in medicine whereby you can figure out how something works when you encounter a problem in the normal function of that specific thing. For example, you better understand how the heart works when there is something wrong with a patient's heart.

This allows you to compare the atypical component to the typical component and decipher what differences may be present, thus pinpointing how things work and how it's not working at that moment.

Cognitive psychology, therefore, looks at how the mind functions, and it studies disorders to pinpoint exactly how these processes work. This field of psychology looks at how the brain stores memories, how it retrieves information from memory, and how it processes language.

The most important components of cognitive psychology are memory, perception, and learning, and how we acquire, process, and store information pertaining to these aspects. Clinical psychology also looks at what factors motivate us to make certain decisions and how we draw different conclusions.

The fascinating thing about the field of cognitive psychology and cognition as a whole is that each individual on this planet has a different perception of absolutely everything they are exposed to. While this may make a cognitive psychologist's job slightly harder in determining generalizations and theories, this is one of the beauties of the mind and one of the most wonderful aspects of human nature.

What Does A Cognitive Psychologist Do?

Cognitive psychology attempts to study the unseen aspects of processing and cognition to determine how people perceive the environment (input/stimulus), how they respond to that input, and the behavior they exhibit as a result of that input (behavior/output).

The tricky thing about studying cognition is that we can read people's minds, but we can't see into their heads, and we can't trust everyone to be entirely truthful and honest about what is going on in their minds. But cognitive psychologists have found a way around this.

The first component that they look at is attention. By looking at how people process and sort data, they can understand what a person thinks is important and relevant and what is irrelevant.

Next, they look at memory, and the way people recall specific events and pieces of information. Through the field and study of cognitive psychology, cognitive psychologists have discovered that memory is divided into three parts namely procedural knowledge (how to do things), semantic knowledge (what things in the world mean), and episodic memories (memory of events).

In addition to language and perception, they also look at the concept of metacognition, which is what we think about our own thoughts. This is how we can know we are thinking negative thoughts and we can self-correct, or how we know what is right from wrong.

Types of Cognitive Psychologists

There are multiple fields within cognitive psychology that you can pursue. You can focus your career on a specific field of study, allowing your research and treatments to be focused.

The types of cognitive psychology are psycholinguistics, developmental sciences, neuropsychology, cognitive modeling, psychology of reasoning, and behavioral neuroscience.

Steps To Become A Cognitive Psychologist

Step One: Obtain Your Bachelor's Degree

First, you need to obtain your bachelor's degree in the field of psychology. You would also need to pursue coursework that will assist you in research analysis and data collection.

Step Two: Choose A Field Of Study

As intriguing as it is to want to pursue all facets of cognitive psychology, you would need to choose a particular field that best suits you and the field you would like to focus on. Whether that is psycholinguistics and the study of how the brain processes language, or cognitive modeling, it is at this point in your career that you will choose a field of focus.

Step Three: Obtain A Graduate Degree

You would then need to pursue your master's degree and then your doctoral degree in the field that you have chosen. This will equip you with the theoretical knowledge and an understanding of research that you would need to have to pursue this career.

You will need to then complete a specific number of supervised clinical hours to pursue this career. This will allow you to gain hands-on experience and apply the theoretical knowledge that you have acquired to practical cases.

Step Five: Obtain License And Certification

Lastly, before pursuing an actual role in the field of cognitive psychology, you would need to obtain a Certified Cognitive-Behavioral Therapist credential offered by The National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists.

What Degree Do You Need To Be A Cognitive Psychologist?

You need to obtain a doctorate in cognitive psychology to pursue this career.

What Is The Average Salary For A Cognitive Psychologist?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), psychologists earn a median annual salary of $81,040.

What Makes A Good Cognitive Psychologist?

To be a good cognitive psychologist, you need to have analytical skills, problem-solving skills, and strong research skills, but you also need to have people skills and the ability to work with a variety of different people.


What Are The Six Areas Of Cognitive Psychology?

Psycholinguistics, developmental sciences, neuropsychology, cognitive modeling, psychology of reasoning, and behavioral neuroscience are the six main areas of cognitive psychology.

Why Is It Important To Study Human Cognition?

It provides insight into the understanding of memory, perception, and learning and allows psychologists and medical practitioners to understand disorders and difficulties in these aspects of psychology.

Who Is The Father Of Cognitive Psychology?

Ulric Neisser is known as the father of cognitive psychology.


If thought and cognition are a source of great fascination for you, if you have always wondered how the mind processes different concepts, and if you are hoping to help those who may suffer from cognitive impairments, then this may be the best-suited field of study for you.

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