Cognitive Psychology

Overview and Philosophy

Research in cognitive psychology is unlocking the mysteries of what many call the last frontier of science: the human mind and brain. Some of the questions that cognitive psychologists are addressing include: How do our sensory and perceptual systems acquire information about the world, and how does the mind attend to some aspects of the world and ignore other aspects? How does the mind learn new information and store that information in memory? How does the mind generate and comprehend language, solve real-world problems, and make decisions? How does the approximately three-pound chunk of matter that we call the brain generate these and other aspects of the mind?

The Cognitive Psychology Program at Iowa State University provides students with a foundation in basic science and its applications to cognitive psychology. The primary goal is for the student to develop the intellectual and technical skills that are necessary to conduct independent research while at Iowa State and in future positions. Our educational program ensures that students will become familiar with the basic findings and theories in their areas of specialization through coursework and interaction with a mentor(s). In addition, an active participation in the front-line research programs of the Iowa State faculty ensures that our students will learn how to design experiments and implement those designs in practice. Although most of our students pursue academic careers after graduation, the education we provide is also useful in applied settings.

Faculty Members

The Cognitive Area at Iowa State is dynamic and growing. Our members maintain internationally recognized research programs in a variety of subdisciplines of cognitive psychology. Faculty education and interests are briefly described below. More detailed information can be obtained by following the links.

  • Shana K. Carpenter (2004, Ph.D., Colorado State University)–theoretical, applied, and historical perspectives on learning and memory; educational practices to optimize learning
  • Jason C.K. Chan (2007, Ph.D., Washington University)–false memory, eyewitness memory, education and cognition
  • Eric E. Cooper (1993, Ph.D., University of Minnesota )–object recognition and visual cognition; cognitive neuroscience
  • Veronica J. Dark (1977, Ph.D., University of Washington )–semantic priming in visual selective attention; attention and memory
  • Jonathan W. Kelly (2006, Ph.D., University of California, Santa Barbara)–navigation, spatial cognition, virtual reality
  • Christian A. Meissner (2001, Ph.D.,  Florida State University) – Cognitive & Behavioral Sciences

Affiliated Faculty:

  • William S. Robinson (1966, Ph.D., Indiana University ), Department of Philosophy & Religious Studies–the nature of consciousness
  • Ann L. Smiley-Oyen (1993, Ph.D., University of Michigan ), Department of Kinesiology–the role of the basal ganglia and cerebellum in motor control

Professional Training

Based on their interests new graduate students select a major professor and they become involved in that faculty member’s research program during their first year of study.  Students gain an understanding of the research of other cognitive faculty through the Cognitive Research Seminar, which is attended by all students and faculty in the program.  At the end of the first year, students choose a thesis advisor (major professor) and begin the development of his or her master’s thesis.  Following the choice of a major professor students works close with this faculty member developing and carrying out research that culminates in the dissertation. Cognitive psychology students complete basic course work in cognitive psychology and cognitive neuropsychology, in addition to course work in statistics and research methods, and other domains of psychology.  Students also complete advanced course work on topics including perception, memory, language, attention, and psychophysiology.


Iowa State University has internationally recognized programs in neuroscience, statistics, mathematics, and computer science. Graduate students are encouraged to take advantage of these departments either through taking classes or through pursuing a minor, a master’s, or a dual doctoral degree.

Many of our students pursue dual doctoral degrees in either neuroscience and psychology or statistics and psychology. For information about these programs, click on the links below.

Numerous minors also are available, including complex adaptive systems, statistics, and computer science. For information, click on the links below.

For those interested in the mathematical modeling of cognitive processes, additional coursework is available in the department of mathematics. For information about that department, click on the link below:


Faculty have state of the art laboratories and equipment for conducting research. In addition, graduate students have access to a brand new multimedia computer laboratory. The Psychology Department at ISU has a large research participant pool, which enables a high level of research productivity among students and faculty.

Student Characteristics

The primary requirement for admission to the cognitive psychology program is a strong interest in cognitive psychology research. There is no substitute for a passion to learn! A typical successful applicant has completed coursework in undergraduate research methods, statistics, and cognitive psychology. The ideal applicant would have research experience and a strong grounding in methods, statistics, and computer programming.

Questions about the Cognitive Psychology Program should be directed to Dr. Christian Meissner at