Through others we become ourselves.

Lev S. Vygostky

At a time when behaviorism was predominant, some researchers criticized the lack of importance given to thought. We remember that behaviorists are only interested in observable behaviors and since we cannot see thought we do not study it. However, during the 1950s, researchers, using roundabout means, managed to take scientifically reliable measures to better understand thought. This is what led to cognitivism emergence.

What are the ideas at the base of cognitivism?

This approach sees humans as a being who perceives and interprets environmental stimuli in an orderly manner. Moreover, it is interested in the passage of information from perception, storage in memory until retrieval. She also questions the way we learn to speak and the relationship between our cognitions and the environment.

They consider that we learn by observing others and by experience.

How does this approach perceive psychopathology?

Since the interest of this approach is directed mainly towards thought, the explanations linked to psychopathologies are too. Cognitivists consider that they are due to dysfunctional beliefs that are responsible for inappropriate behaviors. Depending on what we experience, we form a multitude of representations that describe ourselves, those around us and all that exists in our environment.

For example, a person who grows up with insomniac parents might have a negative representation of sleep. According to her, it would be very difficult to fall asleep. So, under stress, this type of thinking could make it very difficult to fall asleep.

How does this approach approach treatments?

Treatment involves changing the maladaptive thinking which would have the effect of modifying the maladaptive behavior as well. It can be done, among other things by modeling. This technique involves watching another person perform the appropriate behavior, so that their thoughts about the task are changed. For example, for a person with a phobia of spiders, watching another person approach them in a calm manner could alter the negative representation they have constructed.


Tardif, J. Pour un enseignement stratégique. L’apport de la psychologie cognitive, Montréal, Les Éditions Logiques, 1992, 474 p

Wood, E. S., Wood, G. E., Boyd, D. et Hétu, F. (2015). L’univers de la psychologie. 2e édition. Édition Pearson Erpi.

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