What can you do with a Phd in cognitive psychology?

Thinking of getting a PhD in cognitive psychology but don’t know where you could work?

In this brief article, we’re going to answer the question ‘’What can you do with a Phd in cognitive psychology?’’ We will define what cognitive psychology is, what it is responsible for and what are its job opportunities.

What can you do with a Phd in cognitive psychology?

What you can do with a PhD in cognitive psychology is work as a teacher and researcher in colleges, universities, as a clinical psychologist in schools, industries, and government agencies, or have your own practice.

Cognitive psychology is the study of our mental processes in the broadest sense: thinking, feeling, learning, remembering, making decisions and judging, etc.

Although the term “cognitive” is unusual in colloquial language, in the world of behavioral science it’s used with great frequency. For the reader who is not particularly familiar with psychology, we will say that cognitive is synonymous with knowledge or thought.

Cognitive psychology, therefore, is dedicated to the study of human behavior that focuses on the unobservable, mental aspects that mediate between the stimulus and the overt response.

In short: cognitive psychology is responsible for knowing what ideas arise in the patient’s mind and how these influence their emotional and behavioral response -how they feel and what they do about it.

Cognitive psychology emerged in the late 1950s as a contrast to the prevailing behaviorism of the time. Authors such as Piaget and Vigotsky revolutionized the scientific landscape thanks to their theories on cognitive development and learning, which are still valid today.

Starting in the 1960s, interest in cognition and cognitive abilities increased exponentially, and the number of investigations that were generated allowed us to increase the knowledge we have about these processes.

Different disciplines have approached the study of cognition, neurology, psychology, anthropology, philosophy, and even information science. But it was cognitive psychology that began to study how information processing influenced behavior and what relationship different mental processes had in the acquisition of knowledge. 

What Do Cognitive Psychologists Do?

Cognitive psychologists generally perform certain activities, such as:

  •  Conduct research on cognition.
  • Teach in academic institutions.
  • Work as consultants in companies or schools.
  • Study aspects of the brain compared to computers.
  • Work with patients with neuropsychological disorders. 
  • Practice language skills with patients with difficulties. 
  • Work in the legal field.

Cognitive Therapy

The choice of one type of cognitive therapy, to the detriment of another, is usually subject to the recognition of the different needs of the patient. The different types of cognitive therapy are only intervention techniques, but they make up a whole framework of applied science that can take different forms depending on the objectives to be achieved.

By focusing on the study of human knowledge, cognitive psychology investigates different elements such as the perception that people have of reality, the cumulative memory of the past through memories, the acquisition of language that is acquired at an early age, the process of learning, the intrinsic logic of reasoning and the understanding of reality through the concepts that refer to the world.

The mind uses schemes and concepts to understand reality and be able to assimilate it in an objective way.

Cognitive psychology is currently one of the most influential and effective therapeutic currents when it comes to recovering from mental disorders.

Today, we frequently use cognitive therapy to solve a multitude of psychological problems. This is because we have been able to observe how these cognitions or thoughts of which we speak influence, and even in many cases determine, the patient’s behavior.

Therefore, treatment from this perspective focuses on identifying those thoughts, beliefs and mental schemes that do not correspond to the surrounding reality.

They can also be maladaptive, exaggerated or harmful approaches to the person. The professional will therefore try to question these internal realities through a debate consisting of asking questions that call into question those cognitions.

Once the person or the patient is able to identify and question their own beliefs, they will be ready to reformulate them and emit new cognitions, more adjusted to objective reality. Let us, therefore, see more data and aspects to understand in-depth this psychological aspect.

Throughout the history of psychology, different types of cognitive therapies have been developed. However, there are two that stand out above the rest, these are Aaron Beck’s cognitive therapy, which emphasizes automatic thoughts and cognitive distortions; and Albert Ellis’s rational emotional behavioral therapy, in which irrational ideas are worked on.

1. Cognitive therapy by A. Beck (CT)

Aaron Beck’s cognitive therapy is a type of psychotherapy, developed in the 1960s, by American-born psychiatrist Aaron T. Beck. 

This type of therapy is based on the cognitive model, which establishes that thoughts, feelings and behaviors are closely connected and that, therefore, people can overcome their difficulties and achieve their goals by identifying and changing useless or incorrect thoughts .

To achieve such modification, the patient must work in collaboration with the therapist to develop all kinds of skills that allow him to identify distorted thoughts and beliefs and then modify them.

Cognitive restructuring consists of an intervention technique in which the patient identifies and questions his irrational or maladaptive thoughts, known as cognitive distortions. The steps to carry out a cognitive restructuring include:

  • Identification of problematic thoughts.
  • Identification of the cognitive distortions within these thoughts.
  • Questioning, through the Socratic method, of these distortions.
  • Development of a rational argument for these distorted thoughts.

2. Ellis Rational-Emotional-Behavioral Therapy (REBT)

Halfway between cognitive therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy, we find Ellis’s rational-emotional-behavioral therapy. This was exposed for the first time in 1950 by the American psychotherapist and psychologist Albert Ellis, who was inspired by the teachings of different Greek, Roman and Asian philosophers to develop this type of cognitive therapy.

In REBT, the patient learns and begins to apply this premise through the A-B-C-D-E-F model of disturbance and psychological change. 

The A-B-C model holds that it is not adversity (A) that causes the emotional consequences (C), but also the irrational thoughts that the person (B) creates in relation to adversity. By adversity you can understand both an external situation and a thought, feeling or other internal event.

Thanks to this type of therapy, the person can identify and understand the illogical or erroneous interpretations and assumptions that they make in order to question them (D). Finally, the creation (E) of healthier ways of thinking leads people to new feelings (F) and behaviors more appropriate to the circumstance (A) that is addressed in therapy.

What Types of Jobs are Available in Cognitive Psychology?

There are many practical applications of this cognitive discipline, such as providing tools to improve memory, helping people recover from brain injury, and offering effective treatments to improve learning disorders.

Learning how people think and process information not only helps researchers gain a deeper understanding of how the human brain works, it enables them to develop new ways to help people deal with psychological difficulties. Findings from cognitive psychology have also improved our understanding of how people form, store, and retrieve their memories.

Some psychologists with a PhD in cognitive psychology decide to work with patients or independently. Next, we will indicate the job opportunities of professionals in cognitive psychology.


Many cognitive psychologists work in the clinical field, dealing directly with people who are experiencing problems related to mental processes.

Cognitive psychologists focus on thoughts, perceptions, learning processes, and memory. Some work directly on pathologies related to cognition, such as degenerative brain disorders or brain injuries.

They also work on cognitive disorders that can create discomfort in various areas of an individual’s life. Negative thinking can sometimes seriously interfere with health and happiness.

They can treat people who:

  • Have memory loss, dementia, or Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Have suffered a traumatic brain injury.
  • Have a condition that can benefit from cognitive therapy.
  • Have sensory or perception problems.
  • Have a speech or language disorder.

Careers in Academic and Research

Cognitive Psychologists can also pursue the field of research in different fields related to cognition.

In addition, depending on the approaches and topics preferred by each Psychologist, there are different research methods to take into account. Psychologists can also work as teachers in different and varied contexts, they can choose to do university training, in educational centres, training academies, etc.

Research is fundamental in all branches of psychology, but especially in the study of mental processes. This is why it can be beneficial to work in an academic and research environment.

As a professor teaching at a university and also guiding students and psychologists in their research projects, you will play a critical role in publishing future journals and exposing discoveries that can change what scientists know about cognitive skills.

One of the advantages is the incredible variety of topics that can be approached from research in Psychology and that is that everything related to human behavior and mental processes is practically endless.

Research Careers for Private Companies

In addition to working in an academic environment where you will help university students, you can work for private companies. One of the most sought after fields is neuromarketing, companies spend millions to improve their products to increase sales.

As a cognitive psychologist, you will know the processes of memory and language, these elements will help commercial executives to create better advertising and thus increase sales. In addition, if you decide to work in this environment, you can also evaluate the usefulness of the product and write recommendations.

Working as a Curriculum Development Professional or Consultant

Cognitive psychologists study how humans learn and process information. An important aspect of cognitive psychology is learning. You can work in public schools as a consultant, evaluating teaching methods, giving recommendations. This will allow you to work in multiple schools at the same time.

How much Cognitive Psychology makes?

The salary of professionals varies according to academic level, position and experience.

By 2015, cognitive psychologists who worked in companies earned an average of $ 97,260, being the best paid. Across all fields, the average is $ 79,010, according to the U.S Department of Labor.

The worst paid are those cognitive psychologists who work in schools and universities, for 2015 the average salary for these professionals was $ 62,000, according to the American Psychological Association (APA).

So, what can you do with a Phd in cognitive psychology?

The PhD of cognitive psychology has the purpose of knowing and understanding the way mental processes work, to carry out the construction of new knowledge, storage, organization, retrieval and processing of information and the way in which they develop during childhood.

To study a PhD in cognitive psychology you will need a Bachelor and a Master (if your university requests it). If you have theoretical bases, it will be much easier for you to understand the concepts.

At the end of this course in cognitive psychology, you will have acquired the necessary knowledge about psychology to implement them in your professional life. You can work in any field you want, as a clinical psychologist focusing on cognitive therapies, as a researcher and if you want to share your knowledge, as a teacher.

What are you waiting for to get your PhD in cognitive psychology?

FAQS: What can you do with a Phd in cognitive psychology?

How much do cognitive psychologists make?

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, brain science and cognitive psychologists earn in average $79,010.

How long does it take to get a PHD in cognitive psychology?

Steps to get a PhD in cognitive psychology:

1. Bachelor Degree – 4 years.
2. Master’s Degree – 2 years.
3. PhD or PsyD – 2 to 4 years.
Total: From 8 to 10 years.

How much does a psychologist with a doctorate pay?

A psychologist with a PhD earns on average $ 85,000, more than those with PsyD ($ 75,000).

What field of psychology makes the most money?

The psychologists earning the best salaries are Industrial and Organizational Psychologist, with salaries greater than $ 100,000.

Is Psychology a useless degree?

No, it’s not a useless degree, if you have a good training, there are many fields in which you can work. What is happening is that there are more and more mental health professionals, and finding work can be difficult.

In this brief article, we answered the question ‘’What can you do with a PhD in cognitive psychology?’’ We defined what cognitive psychology is, what it is responsible for and what are its job opportunities.

If you have any questions or comments please let us know!


Brain, in. (2014). A Career in Brain Science and Cognitive Psychology. Retrieved October 21, 2020, from https://www.apa.org website: https://www.apa.org/action/science/brain-science/education-training

Careers in Cognitive Psychology. Retrieved October 21, 2020, from Verywell Mind website: https://www.verywellmind.com/careers-in-cognitive-psychology-2795647

‌Solso, R. L., MacLin, M. K., & MacLin, O. H. (2005). Cognitive psychology. Pearson Education New Zealand.