Cognitive Science: How thoughts and behaviours impact achievement and success in Education

Cognitive Science is a valid, quantifiable field that is able to help us understand a wide range of issues as they pertain to Education and Learning. The research behind Cognition has been focussed on how we think and the way we learn, and more specifically on the systematic biases in of the schemas that we hold about the ways the world works. Our biases and distortions are often the barriers to an effective education, and therefore, we need to address them within our education system.  Once we begin to recognized what those barriers are, we can engage in discussion, assessment, and appropriate intervention strategies. Intervention strategies can include effective ways for educators to begin to disrupt the thought patterns that lead to maladaptive behaviours. This is essential to help students and Teachers alike to create positive change in the education system.

Aaron T. Beck developed Cognitive Theory because of the belief that humans have the ability to evaluate their own thoughts, which in turn elicit behaviours. Thoughts certainly affect personality. Therefore, individuals must identify and change dysfunctional thoughts and maladaptive cognitive functioning, in order to improve behaviour.

The theory behind our Cognition basically posits that our cognitions (thoughts, beliefs and assumptions), will trigger our affect, behaviour and our motivation. In other words, how we feel will affect how we behave, and they will in turn have profound effects on our motivation to learn.

Self-monitoring is an excellent tool that teachers can use with students, to encourage more reflection, and metacognition skills (thinking about the way we think). Once students develop an increased awareness of their thoughts, then educators can help students engage in appropriate activity scheduling to help students actively dispute maladaptive thoughts, which will in turn affect maladaptive functioning and behaviours in the classroom.

Three cornerstones of Cognitive Theory include:

a) The necessity to recognize the ability for students to self-monitor their own thoughts and behaviour,

b) The ability for Educator(s) and students to collaboratively engage in appropriate activity scheduling, and

c) Active thought disputation.

Maladaptive behaviours basically occur because of maladaptive thoughts and reflexive responses. However, we as humans have the power to be active agents in our own development. Therefore, dysfunctional thoughts can be replaced if an individual engages in activities including deliberate thinking, goal setting, problem solving, and long term planning. With careful questioning and activities such as personalized homework assignments, Cognitive Science really helps to teach us that students can learn to use conscious control of their thoughts in order to recognize and override maladaptive behaviours and poor choices. Other specific activity scheduling strategies can include (but not limited to) Role Playing, Social Skills training, Assertiveness Training, and Talking Circles.

In addition, embedding Character Education, Community building, and a Culture of Caring within our schools is also extremely important to restoring public confidence in the education system, in addition to improving transitions from elementary to high school, and high school to higher education.

It is important for Educators to use questioning to bring about new learning by:

1) Clarifying and defining problem areas

2) Assisting in the identification of thoughts, images and assumptions

3) Examining the meanings of events for a student

4) Assessing the consequences of maintaining maladaptive thoughts and behaviours.

Cognitive Science also has the ability to inform maladaptive behaviours and thought patterns including anxiety and depression in our students. An increasing variable that we as educators are facing when educating each cohort. Cognitive Theory posits that people suffering from depression and anxiety are not consciously seeking failure in their lives, but distorting their own reality by adopting negative views of themselves, and of their potential for happiness. Another key assumption is that negative automatic thoughts are developed through everyday experiences that are perceived as negative. Activity Scheduling interventions are excellent ways to actively dispute negative thoughts and behaviours!

In Cognitive theory, we as educators can use these thoughts to serve as hypotheses that can be subject to empirical validation. Many Educators appreciate the tasks of homework assignments where students  test their own hypotheses, and can make personal observations to refute (or confirm) their hypotheses of their own thoughts and behaviours. Therefore, individuals are always active participants.


D. McCallum

4 responses to “Cognitive Science: How thoughts and behaviours impact achievement and success in Education”

  1. Debbie,

    This is such a timely article for me personally. I have a dear friend who is experiencing some depression and anxiety in her life. The Cognitive Theory expresses the importance of non-judgmental support, the value of questioning and active participation in therapy, self-reflection and the realization that one does have control over his/her decisions and behaviour. Thank you for including this in your binder. It provides strategies for me as an educator and friend to help my students and loved ones. Cynthia


    1. Thank you very much for your comment, I greatly appreciate that. Cognitive Psychology has always been a passion of mine, and I see many applications to our Educational System. I would love to see more concrete assessments, tools and interventions used in our school systems to support learning from Cognitive Science. Thank you!


  2. […] should match the nature of our brains, rather than force the brain to comply with its own agenda. Cognitive Science in Education, and Principles of Learning will all tell us that our emotions  and thoughts will impact our […]


  3. […] are impacted by the attitudes and beliefs of those around us. The effects of nurture that shape our schemas of how the world works, also shapes what we believe, how we feel, and how we perform in […]


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