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Cognition

Cognition is defined as mental processes that aid learning and is thought to determine behaviour. It is our awareness of the world, in a sense, and how we reason, judge, and perceive the things around us. Cognition is thought to develop throughout our lives as our mental capacities become more advanced and mature, and cognition is one of the major components of the mind.

There are different forms of cognition that humans and animals have that support the learning process of information, for example:

  • Thinking
  • Language
  • Attention
  • Perception
  • Reasoning

Cognition Illustration of a child and mother playing with boxes on the table StudySmarterCognitive Development growing up, freepik.com/vectorjuice

Some of the aspects of cognition and behaviour that will be covered in this topic are:

Cognitive meaning

As we established briefly above, cognitive refers to the mental processes in the mind and how we learn and use the knowledge we have learned. Our awareness of the world, how we perceive it and imagine it, and how we ultimately solve problems all revolves around our cognitive abilities.

Cognitive psychology

Several areas of cognition and behaviour are touched up in cognitive psychology.

Cognitive psychology: Memory

Memory is probably the most known and talked about cognition. It is the active process of remembering, storing and retrieving information. This topic is widely researched in psychology in various settings such as clinical, forensic and developmental. Some of the topics covered in this field are:

  • Memory models such as the multi-store model of memory
  • Memory processes
  • Accuracy of memory
  • Forgetting of memories

Cognitive psychology: Perception

Perception is a form of cognition. This internal cognitive process is used to see the world. Internal perceptual mental processes influence how we see things such as colour and interpret dimensions. How visual information is perceived is influenced by our subjective experience (personal experiences) and how our brain integrates the perceived information that has been received from sensory systems.

Some of the topics covered in this section are:

Cognitive development

Developmental psychology looks at the topic of how humans develop throughout their lifespan. This area of psychology investigated how behaviour how changes over time. Cognition has been found to develop throughout the lifespan. Developmental psychology research often investigates how changes in cognition throughout the lifespan affect behaviour and mental illnesses.

Some of the topics covered include:

  • Early brain development

  • Piaget's theory of cognitive development

  • The effects of learning on development

Research methods in psychology and data handling

Research methods in psychology and data handling cover topics to show how the methods, techniques, and data analysis techniques are used in psychology to investigate cognition and other phenomena in this field of study. Some of these include:

  • The scientific approach used in psychology research

    • The ethical standards of psychological research

  • Different types of experiments and research designs used

  • The types of data that are collected and how they are analysed in psychology research

How do cognitive psychologists view cognition?

Cognitive psychologists argue that psychology should measure cognitive processes (such as the elements in cognition) to understand behaviour. Therefore, it is argued that behaviour results from these cognitive processes.

In psychology, there are several approaches. These approaches explain the causes and effects of these types of cognition differently.

  • Biological psychologists argue that genetic factors influence cognition
  • Cognitive psychologists argue that internal mental processes such as schemas influence cognition

The cognitive approach to understanding behaviour and cognition

Cognitive psychologists explain cognition and behaviour with a computer analogy. Information is inputted (via our senses) and then processed (via cognition). This leads to an output to be created (behaviour).

  • Schema Theory – schemas develop through experience. These mental structures are used to organise our knowledge and guide cognitive processes and behaviour.

    • According to cognitive psychologists, cognitive processes are directed by schemas that integrate new information with previous knowledge acquired and organised in schemas.

Cognition An illustration of a human head that has a gear for a brain StudySmarterMechanism in the brain, flaticon.com/free-icon

How are cognition and dysfunctional behaviour related?

According to cognitive psychologists, faults in cognition are the causes of maladaptive behaviour and psychological illnesses.

Cognition and maladaptive behaviour

Cognitive psychologists propose that faulty thought processes and cognitive distortions cause maladaptive behaviour. Humans' schema is developed through interpreting experiences and knowledge. Schemas are needed to understand and learn about the world, the self and different concepts. When processing this information, faults in mental processes can sometimes cause cognitive bias or distortions.

According to cognitive psychologists:

  • Irrational and dysfunctional thought processes are the causes of maladaptive behaviour.

    Cognitive distortions are recurrent, faulty, negative, inaccurate ways of thinking about something, which results in biased thinking.

    There are different types of cognitive distortions: - Catastratophising: automatically think of negative outcomes when thinking about situations - Overgeneralising: believing if something negative happens once it will keep happening - All-or-nothing thinking: seeing things as only good or bad

These cognitive distortions can cause the individual to have a negative triad, which is a concept Beck developed to explain depression, known as the cognitive triad. People with a negative triad tend to negatively see the world and their current and future selves.

People with depression have developed negative schemas and continuously see events negatively (this is known as the vicious cycle).

Cognitive behavioural therapy

Beck developed cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), which has now become one of the most common therapy methods used today. This therapy aims to change negative cognitive and behavioural patterns. CBT can be considered an effective treatment if it has successfully changed an individual to have adaptive cognitions and behaviour.

What does cognitive behavioural therapy involve?

CBT is when someone with maladaptive behaviour talks with a trained therapist

  • The therapist's role is to adapt an individual's core beliefs, dysfunctional thoughts and negative automatic thoughts from maladaptive to adaptive ones (negative to positive).

    Core beliefs refer to how an individual sees themself, others, and the world.

    Dysfunctional assumptions are rules for living that people form for themselves. These tend to be rigid, dysfunctional and maladaptive – 'I will not try because I will fail'.

    Negative automatic thoughts – when thinking about something, it tends to be thought about negatively and evokes negative emotions

How do other psychological approaches explain cognition?

There are multiple approaches to psychology. These approaches differ in how they understand and explain behaviour such as cognition.

Like the cognitive approach, biological psychologists try to understand internal processes to understand cognition.

However, behavioural psychologists try to understand behaviour via measuring observable phenomena and external processes, which is contrasting with the cognitive approach.

The biological approach to understanding cognition and behaviour

The biological approach is somewhat similar to the cognitive approach, and it has a few key theories that attempt to explain cognition and behaviour.

Cognition: Evolution theory

The natural selection theory suggests that cognition is an adaptive feature that has developed through evolution via survival of the fittest. During evolution, humans with successful genes or mechanisms are more likely to survive and reproduce. In this case, cognitive processes that are more successful at ensuring survival are passed to the next generation.

According to evolutionary psychologists, the purpose of cognition is to determine and influence behaviour that ensures survival.

Cognition: Neurobiological processes

Neuronal and neurotransmitter activity is essential for cognitive processes to work. For example, language processing occurs when specific brain regions associated with language are activated (frontal, temporal, and parietal lobe). The ‘typical’ functioning of mental processes has been associated with electrical activity, a determinant of neuronal activity (Bell, 2001).

Essentially, neurobiological processes focus on the brain's neuronal activity as a determining factor in cognition and behaviour.

Cognition A computer screen with a leaf and DNA on it StudySmarterBiological research, flaticon.com/premium-icon

The behavioural approach to understanding behaviour and cognition

The behavioural approach differs from the biological and cognitive approaches. They believe behaviour is learnt and is not innate (essentially, we learn a behaviour and are not born with it), and humans learn in the same way as animals. The mind itself is not relevant to the conversation, as we can not truly measure it. We can only measure behaviours.

Cognition: Behaviourists approach

Behavioural psychologists believe that behaviour that is not observable, such as cognition and other internal processes, cannot be objectively measured. Therefore, behaviourists believe that although internal measures cannot be measured, the outcome of internal processes can be. Behaviourists try to measure changes in behaviour that happen due to environmental factors and use this to understand cognition.

Social-cognitive theorists and mediational processes

Social-cognitive theorists combine aspects of the cognitive and behavioural approach to understand behaviour. The theorists believe that we learn behaviour from our environment (similar to behaviourists), but mediational processes are required to work to learn new behaviour (similar to cognitive theory).

Mediational processes are internal mental events that occur between learning a new behaviour via associations between a conditioned stimulus and response.

Mediational factors are essentially the different types of cognition that lead to learning.

Cognition An illustration showing a building behind a river and trees StudySmarterEnvironment, flaticon.com/premium-icon

Cognition - Key takeaways

  • Cognition is defined as mental processes that aid learning and is thought to determine behaviour.
  • Cognition develops throughout the lifespan due to these evolving and learning from our thoughts, experiences and senses.
  • Some of the topics that are covered in the GCSE cognition and behaviour topics are:
    • Memory
      • Memory is probably the most known and talked about cognition. This topic is widely researched in psychology in various settings such as clinical, forensic and developmental.
    • Perception
      • A perception is a form of cognition. This internal cognitive process is used to see the world. Internal perceptual mental processes influence how we see things, such as colour, and our subjective experiences influence dimensions.
    • Developmental psychology
      • Developmental psychology research often investigates how changes in cognition throughout the lifespan affect behaviour and mental illnesses.
    • Research methods in psychology and data handling
      • These topics show the method used to investigate cognition and other psychological phenomena.
  • Cognitive psychologists explain cognition and behaviour with a computer analogy.
  • CBT is used to change an individual to have adaptive cognitions and behaviour successfully.

Frequently Asked Questions about Cognition

Cognitive behavioural therapy is an intervention used to successfully change an individual to have adaptive cognitions and behaviour. 

Cognitive refers to the underlying mental processes that determine behaviour.

Cognitive development is the development of how people think, perceive things and organise new things learned in the brain and use these later to apply context to further information. Cognitive development is a critical part of childhood. 

The cognitive approach is a discipline of psychology that attempts to describe and explain behaviour as a result of cognition. 


Cognitive psychologists explain cognition and behaviour with a computer analogy. Information is inputted (via our senses) and then processed (via cognition), leading to an output to be created (behaviour). 

An example of a cognitive theory is the human body as a computer. This theory explains cognition and behaviour with a computer analogy. Information is inputted (via our senses) which is then processed (internal cognitive processes), leading to an output to be created (behaviour).

Final Cognition Quiz

Question

What is the definition of an interview?

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Interviews are a method of collecting data in psychological research by an interviewer directly asking the participants about their behaviours, thoughts and feelings. It involves direct contact, which can be either face-to-face or over a video/audio call.

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What are the three main types of interviews used in psychology?

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Structured, unstructured, semi-structured interviews

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How may interviews be carried out? 

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Face-to-face or over a video/audio call.

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Can structured interviews be considered to have high reliability? 

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Since structured interviews have all of their questions pre determined and fixed, it's easy for other researchers to repeat the research and replicate the study by asking the same questions in the same order. Therefore, structured interviews have higher reliability. 

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What is a structured interview?

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Structured interviews are when questions are fixed before the interview, and all participants are asked the same questions in the same order. 

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What is a semi-structured interview?

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Type of interview with a combination of structured and unstructured questions. Some questions are predetermined, and others are determined by the interviewees answers. 

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What is an unstructured interview?

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Type of interview where questions are not predetermined. Open questions are asked, and subsequent questions are determined based on the interviewees answers. 

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What is the definition of open questions?

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Open questions produce longer, detailed, insightful, non-restricted answers, which give qualitative data, e.g. questions beginning with who, what, why, how, where, when, etc.

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What is the definition of closed questions?

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Closed questions - produce short, limited, straight forward answers, which gives quantitative data, e.g. questions which require a yes or no response.

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What are the advantages of unstructured interviews?

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  • Unstructured interviews provide detailed, insightful and rich information. The participants can explain their responses, which helps researchers understand why they behave, feel or think in the way they do. 
  • The interviewee and interviewers are more likely to build a rapport, the relationship between the interviewer and interviewee. A rapport is expected to be built because the interview is conversation-like. This is important as the responses are more likely to be truthful, increasing the validity of the findings.

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What advantages do semi-structured interviews have?


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  • Since semi-structured interviews have some flow and the opportunity for the participants to explain themselves, the information obtained is valuable and more rich and detailed.
  • Since there is some structure and fixed questions, comparing participants' responses later when analysing the data makes it easier to draw conclusions (but not to the extent of structured interviews).
  • It is flexible and sensitive to each participant's individual experience and responses.

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What is social desirability bias?

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Social desirability bias is when participants respond in a way they think others will find favourable rather than their actual response. 

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What is the disadvantage of unstructured interviews regarding drawing conclusions?


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Since unstructured interviews mean every participant is asked different questions, it is difficult for researchers to compare participants' responses and draw conclusions from them. 

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Why are structured interviews time-efficient?

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Structured interviews gather a lot of information quickly due to the ease of having a structure and fixed questions for every participant, so they can be considered time-efficient. 

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What kind of disadvantages do semi-structured interviews have?

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semi structured interviews have the disadvantages of both structured and unstructured interviews. 

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What is validity?

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Validity in psychological research refers to the extent to which a test measures what it is supposed to measure

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What is internal validity?

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Internal validity depends entirely on the procedures adopted in a research and how it is then performed

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What is external validity?


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External validity refers to how well the findings of the research can be considered generalisable

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What is content validity?

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When a test shows content validity, the items representing the test, will identify as the the range of items the test could possibly ever show

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What is criterion-related validity?

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Criterion-related validity refers to the effectiveness in predicting criteria of a specific construct

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What is construct validity?

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Construct validity is observed within a test when a relationship between the test scores and the prediction of a theoretical trait is present.

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Face validity?


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Face validity would mean that the test appears to work.

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Reliability vs Validity

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It is important to highlight that a test can be reliable and not be valid. At times consistent results don't mean that a test is measuring what the research planned to measure.

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What's reliability?

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The word "reliability" in psychology refers to the consistency present in a research study or when measuring a test

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What's internal reliability?

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Internal reliability in psychological research refers to the internal consistency of a measure (within a test)

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What is external reliability?

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External reliability in psychological research refers to the extent to which a measure changes from one use to another one.

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How to assess reliability?

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One way to assess the external consistency of a test is the test-retest. , which will measure the stability of a test over time.

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How to assess external reliability?

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Another way to assess the external reliability of a test is the inter-rater reliability. In this test two or more raters will score the test.

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Another word for inter-rater reliability?

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It can also be called inter-observer reliability, when performing observation research. In this occasion, researcher will observe the same behaviour and then compare the obtained data.

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How can reliability be improved?


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raining the researchers/observers with specific observation techniques

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How many children took part in Hughes' policeman doll study?

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30 children took part in the study.

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How old were the children in the policeman doll study?

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The children were aged three and a half to five years old.

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What was Hughes' aim in the policeman doll study?

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Hughes aimed to study egocentric thinking in children as well as their ability to understand others' viewpoints.

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How did Hughes' study differ from Piaget's three mountains task?

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Hughes designed his experiment to be much more intuitive and simple for children to complete.

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What materials were used in the policeman doll study?

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The materials used consisted of a boy doll, two policeman dolls and a model of intersecting walls. When Hughes' attempted to make the study more complex, more policeman dolls and 'walls' were added.

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What was the children's task in the policeman doll study?

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The children in the study were instructed to hide the boy doll from the police dolls behind a wall.

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What were the results of the study?

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The results showed that 90% of children aged four or higher were able to hide the doll. 

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What did Hughes conclude?

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Hughes concluded that egocentric thinking was not as prevalent in children aged four and older.

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How was Hughes' study a successful challenge to Piaget's?

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  • Hughes' study's simplicity allowed him to investigate children's levels of egocentrism in a way that children could understand.
  • Hughes' also found that Piaget's procedure used in the three mountain task may have been too complex for children to understand. 
  • Finally, Hughes' results indicated that younger children do not display egocentric thinking, which Piaget found in his study.

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What design did Hughes' study use?

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Hughes' study used an experimental design.

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How does an experimental design affect validity?

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An experimental design allows the investigator to have great control over the experiment and its variables and makes results more valid.

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How does the validity of this study procedure compare to Piaget's?

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The study can be considered more valid than Piaget's.

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Why might the participants' demographics limit the validity of this study's findings?

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The participants were all young British boys; this means the study is ethnocentric as it does not consider cultural differences. 

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This study took place in an artificial environment. How might this affect validity?

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Because the study took place in an artificial environment, the study's findings may lack ecological validity.

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Why might this study's sample size limit the reliability of Hughes' policeman doll study? 

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This study used a very small sample size (30), so it is difficult to generalise the findings to the broader population. 

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What is the definition of cognition? 

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Cognition is defined as mental processes that aid learning and is thought to determine behaviour. 


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Which approach differs in opinions of whether cognition can be observed?

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Cognitive

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Which of the following is the definition of negative automatic thoughts?


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How an individual sees themself, others and the world 

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Which of the following is the definition of core beliefs? 


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How an individual sees themself, others and the world 

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Which of the following is the definition of dysfunctional assumptions? 


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How an individual sees themself, others and the world 

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