Ulric Neisser and Cognitive Psychology: Overview

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  • 0:02 Ulric Neisser
  • 1:02 Attention and Perception
  • 2:15 Memory
  • 3:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Tara DeLecce

Tara has taught Psychology and has a master's degree in evolutionary psychology.

In this lesson, you'll learn more about the work of Ulric Neisser and the limitations of human information processing with phenomena like inattentional blindness and flashbulb memory. Then test your knowledge with a quiz.

Ulric Neisser

Ulric Neisser was born in 1928 and became known as the 'father of cognitive psychology.' To be clear about cognitive psychology, it is the study of the mental processes involved in acquiring knowledge. In his youth, he was affiliated with one of the founders of cognitive psychology, George Miller, at Harvard and MIT. He went on to start his first graduate degree at Swarthmore University. He earned his doctorate at Harvard and then taught at Emory and Brandise Universities. Later he would become a well-known faculty member at Cornell University. In 1967, his book Cognitive Psychology was published, which was what gained him the title of the 'father of cognitive psychology.' Neisser died in 2012, but not before carrying out a great deal of significant research in cognitive psychology, the self, and intelligence. The following sections of this lesson will describe his best-known work.

Attention and Perception

One of the main topics in cognitive psychology is attention and perception. This approach to psychology also compares the way the brain processes information to the way a computer works in which information must first be encoded, then stored into memory, and then able to be retrieved on demand.

Attention and perception are required for encoding information, and Neisser and his colleagues noticed that the brain does not encode or pay attention to everything it is exposed to. In fact, it was found that the brain typically only concentrates on a small piece of what is going on around it and ignores the rest, which has been termed inattentional blindness.

In the research of Neisser and his colleagues, they showed experiment participants a video of a group of people passing a basketball. Some of the people in the video were wearing white shirts and some were wearing black shirts. The participants were asked to keep track of every time a white-shirted player passed the ball. While participants were very good at this task, they were so engrossed in it that they completely missed a woman walking across the screen carrying an umbrella in the middle of the basketball passing. This was a classic experiment that showed how people who put their attention on one task at a time can be blind to other stimuli.

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