I was wondering what your guys thoughts were about cognitive science making unique contributions to improve the methodological and theoretical foundations of psychology?

Can it make unique contributions? Will it ever be able to replace psychology? What about the replication crisis of psychology? Does this have an impact on the reputation of cognitive science?

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

  • $\begingroup$ I've been reading on evolutionary psychology as a promising emerging science, based on our improved understanding of genetics and built in human preferences. Unlike social sciences model of psychology, this one is grounded in empirical evidence of differences between the genders, and their impact on cognition. Maybe this is what you mean by "improve". $\endgroup$
    – Alex Stone
    Jun 1 '16 at 14:40
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexStone I completely disagree. Evolutionary psychology is hardly "emerging" given that many people were writing about it in the 1980s (and then there was some Victorian dude called Darwin!). Experimental psychology, whether theorising based on evolution or not, is all grounded in empirical evidence. And this question is not about sex or gender. $\endgroup$
    – splint
    Jun 2 '16 at 15:36

Answering this question is very difficult without first agreeing what "cognitive science" is (a problem for this very site!). Unlike another answer here, to me, cognitive science is not necessarily about neuroscience methods (that would be cognitive neuroscience). Instead, cognitive science is an interdisciplinary hodgepodge of people doing empirical psychology, computer science, linguistics and philosophy of mind. And I say this as a member of the Cognitive Science Society. Although neuroscience is often involved, cognitive science is much older and historically linked to computing, AI and the cognitive revolution.

It certainly has made, and will continue to make, unique contributions to psychology. One can argue about the overlap between cognitive psychology and cognitive science (to me it is considerable), but theories of information processing from computing, computational models, linguistic theory and many other examples can make more precise predictions which people can verify with empirical data (these people are normally psychologists). This improves psychology which has sometimes suffered from being too vague ("boxology").

Because I see CS as an umbrella including psychology, I don't think it makes sense to think of it "replacing" psychology.

Because CS has often included people doing empirical experiments on human behaviour, the replication crisis certainly has implications (though it may be buffered by it's emphasis on theory). Cognitive psychologists are certainly guilty sometimes, though much of the soul-searching on replications, p-hacking etc comes from experimental social psychology.


Most likely cognitive science and psychology fields will come together into one field of study, but only with technical improvements to be made. This trend has already begun, with more psychology departments conducting experiments that involve neuroimaging or EEG.

Cognitive science, while attempting to be a scientific field with empirical methods, has its theoretical backgrounds in psychology (such as attention, working-memory, consciousness, and so on). This provides a limited credibility to the current findings of cognitive science. We only know certain areas are activated during a task, but vague localization of brain area to a task is not enough for the understanding of brain mechanisms that is desired for practical applications. Only when experimental methods become higher resolution (enough to fully explain brain activities and behaviors with activations of certain neurons) will cognitive science become a full-fledged science.

On the other hand, psychology theories have been based on observations of behaviors and assumptions made by psychologists. With more concrete information from cognitive science, psychologists would be able to update their theories that are better backed by experimental evidence.

For replication crisis, well it comes from a lack of emphasis on replication studies by the research funding system in place as well as a lack of understanding of statistics (incorrect use of p-values). There is indeed a cross-effect of psychology replication crisis affecting cognitive science reputation because the term cognitive psychology is used often and interchangeably with cognitive science recently. That's not the only issue for cognitive science, though. Cognitive science has its own study "validity" crisis in that cognitive scientist may find some significant activation in some area and relate it to some other characteristic just because of some correlation. One outstanding example is the study that found significant differences in brain activation between Republicans and Democrats (really?).


Nice book about limitations of cognitive science in current state: http://www.amazon.com/Brain-Imaging-Cannot-About-Consciousness/dp/0199838720

Republican-Democrat brain study: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0052970

Republican-Democrat brain study debunked: http://www.science20.com/science_20/republican_and_democratic_brains_debunked_hopefully_last_time-119666

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    $\begingroup$ If I understand you correctly, you see cognitive science as psychology with an EEG-cap attached. This is, however, way too simplistic a view; It has long been known that by mere localization we will not understand the brain. What also belongs to CogSci are computational models and cognitive architectures. That is the next step to understand the mind: making predictions. A nice paper to read is "you can't play 20 questions with nature and expect to win" from Alan Newell, in which he criticises the bottom up approach of measuring and localizing everything. $\endgroup$ Jun 1 '16 at 7:17
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for pointing that out. I found that there are two sides to this argument. The book I referred to is by one of the pioneers of fMRI research and he is a neurophysicist, seeing more sense in the bottom-up approach. Meanwhile, my mentor thinks the opposite, in that the amount of information required for bottom-up approach cannot be obtained with current technology. Because I tend to do cognitive science research, I was being more careful in my approach of cognitive science description, in that you always have to think in the background that the roots of your theories are not empirical. $\endgroup$
    – Kenny Kim
    Jun 1 '16 at 22:18

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