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What are the limitations of the cognitive approach to psychology?

The cognitive approach to psychology studies internal information processes such as perception, attention, language and memory. Cognitive psychologists study these internal processes and how they affect our emotions and behaviour. Whilst cognitive psychology has been very useful in developing new theories and finding out more about how the mind works, there are some limitations to this approach.

1) Lacks ecological validity. This means that researchers within cognitive psychology often conduct their studies within a 'false' setting, or one which does not represent the real world. For example a study researching memory might involve testing participants in a classroom environment where they may feel under more pressure to perform well, and their memory performance may therefore be worse than if it was measured in their own home. This lack of ecological validity makes results of the study less representative to everyday life, and could mean they are not applicable outside the study environment. 

2) Reductionist. Reductionism is a term simply used to describe theories that over simplify human behaviour. Many of the approaches in psychology fail to take into account all of the different influences that affect the human mind and our behaviour, and instead chose to focus on only one part of the explanation into how the mind works. In cognitive psychology individual differences are often ignored, and it is assumed all internal processing is the same in different people. This is reductionist as it fails to account for environmental, biological or genetic influences on cognitive function. 

3) Inability to directly measure cognitive function. Another big problem for cognitive psychologists is that it is difficult to measure internal processes such as attention and perception. Instead of measuring these process' directly, congitive psychologists use tests that measure behaviours, or external features that they believe are related to the internal process'. In doing this, researchers have to infer that the internal process which they want to investigate is actually related to the recorded behaviour without having any evidence of this connection. This is another limitation of the cognitive approach that may lower the validity of research within the area. 

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