What Does a Cognitive Psychologist Do? And How to Become One

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated September 29, 2022 | Published November 30, 2021

Updated September 29, 2022

Published November 30, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Cognitive psychology studies how humans think and have provided many great insights to the scientific community. A career as a cognitive psychologist can be extremely rewarding and can allow you to help many people. While the duties of a cognitive psychologist vary, you may study how memory works or help someone with a psychological disorder. In this article, we examine what a cognitive psychologist is, discover what a cognitive psychologist does, look at what skills are important to a cognitive psychologist, and examine the steps you can take to become one.

What does a cognitive psychologist do?

When thinking about therapy and the different branches of the field, many people may ask "What does a cognitive psychologist do?". A cognitive psychologist is a medical professional who specializes in the human mind and how it functions. This can include any function from memory and memory recall, to how we learn new abilities and languages. Cognitive psychologists also work with patients who have psychological disorders and they help to develop treatment plans. Cognitive psychologists can help to treat depression, anxiety, addictions, and a wide range of behavioural problems.

Typically, a cognitive psychologist can work in one of two environments. The first is working on the research side of the field. These psychologists help to further the field by conducting studies and experiments. Others may choose to work directly with patients and help to develop treatments.

Related: Psychologist Interview Questions and Answers

Career paths in cognitive psychology

The field of cognitive psychology offers a wide range of career paths. Below is a list of different paths you can pursue in cognitive psychology:


Conducting research is a large part of the cognitive psychology field. Psychologists who work in this section dedicate themselves to researching and understanding the behaviours of the human mind. There are many different areas that they focus their research on. These areas include motor control, memory, linguistics, learning abilities and strategies, and how we process information. This type of research has helped to improve education and further understanding of how varied each person's brain can be. Once the research is complete, scientific journals can publish the findings.


Psychologists may also consider a career in education and teaching. This can be a very satisfying career path if you enjoy planning lectures and helping people to learn. Teachers can have a large impact on people's lives and it's an important role in society. Working in the education sector is about adapting to different learning styles and helping people to achieve their goals.

Practicing psychologist

A different career path is working as a practicing psychologist. This means you're working with patients to help them treat their cognitive problems. You can work as a practicing psychologist in a few different ways. The first is working with patients through cognitive behavioural therapy. This means that you're assisting people with changing behaviour through gradual steps. This can include anything from social anxiety to addiction.

Another way is to provide therapy for emotional and mental illness. This is most commonly thought of when people hear the term psychologist. You can also work with patients to help with memory loss and recovery.

Private businesses

Some large corporations and private businesses may hire a cognitive psychologist for several reasons. The corporations may hire a psychologist to conduct research and develop new products. They may also have a cognitive psychologist help with marketing and the development of new strategies. This can either be a full-time job with the business or sometimes the psychologist is an independent consultant.

Important skills of a cognitive psychologist

The following set of skills are some of the most important for a career as a cognitive psychologist:

  • High Emotional Intelligence: Emotional intelligence is the ability to read and understand other people's emotions. This is crucial when helping people with their own emotional and mental illnesses.

  • Problem-solving: Whether you're working as a researcher or working with patients, problem-solving is part of being a cognitive psychologist. Being able to come up with practical solutions to problems that arise is an essential skill.

  • Analytical thinking: Examining topics objectively and analytically is important when studying research and data. It can help with problem-solving and discovering where the problems originated.

  • Organization: When researching, it's important to keep all the details of the experiment well organized so you can explain and display it to others. If you're helping patients, proper organization can help you keep each case separate and allow you to plan treatments more easily.

  • Time management: In all careers, time management is an essential skill. Having a proper work-life balance is important for not only your productivity but also for your overall mental health.

Related: Skills Assessment Tests: What You Need to Know

Steps for how to become a cognitive psychologist

Becoming a cognitive psychologist can be a complex process. Below are the steps to follow:

1. Get a bachelor's degree in psychology

Getting a bachelor's degree in psychology or a related field is the first step of this process. You can learn about human behaviour, abnormal psychology, problem-solving, and several other subjects that can help build your essential base knowledge for the role of a cognitive psychologist. It may take up to four years to complete your program and obtain your degree.

2. Pick your specialization

Cognitive psychology offers a wide range of studies and specializations that you can look into. When deciding on cognitive psychology as a career, you may also want to consider a specialization within the field. Listed below are some specializations within the field:

  • Aging and cognition: This specialization focuses on the effects that normal aging has on the brain. Aging affects many aspects of cognition, from memory and recall, your brain's ability to process information.

  • Psychology of reasoning: This is an in-depth look at how people use reason to solve problems. There are four types of reasoning for psychologists to understand, including deductive, inductive, abductive, and metaphorical inference.

  • Cognitive modelling: This area of study also crosses over with computer sciences. It's all about creating simulations or predictive models based on human reasoning and problem-solving.

  • Cognitive engineering: This is a method of combining the lessons of cognitive psychology to engineer systems that are better suited for the users, rather than just the items' function.

  • Developmental science: This specialization examines cognition throughout all stages of life. From infancy to adulthood, developmental science looks at both normal and abnormal aging and its effect on cognition.


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3. Post-graduate degree

Your next step is to complete a post-graduate degree. If you're looking to pursue teaching or research, you may want to obtain a master's degree. If you want to work with people and treat patients, then you can pursue getting a doctorate. These degrees may continue to build on your base knowledge, while presenting you with opportunities for hands-on learning with clinical training.

4. Complete supervised clinical time

Requirements change from province to province, but most of them require that a certain amount of supervised clinical time take place. You can decide to fulfill this requirement while taking your post-graduate degree, or it can also take place before or after getting your doctorate. For a list of the clinical hour requirements in each province, visit the Canadian Psychological Association.

5. Take the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology

Passing the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) is one of the requirements in Canada to become a licensed cognitive psychologist. The EPPP is a multiple-choice test that may take up to four hours to complete. While there are some exemptions to having to take the test, most provinces require you to pass with 70% or higher. Besides the EPPP, some provinces may have additional testing, such as a jurisprudence exam, oral examination, and an ethics test.

Related: How to Become a Psychologist in Canada

6. Apply for jobs

After you have obtained your license, you can apply for jobs in cognitive psychology as a strong work candidate. Where you apply can depend on what aspect of cognitive psychology you want to work in. If you want to teach, then you may want to focus on applying to academic organizations and school boards. If you're looking to conduct research, search for jobs with pharmaceutical corporations or mental health facilities. If treating patients and helping people is what you want to do, then apply to hospitals, mental health facilities, and even HR departments.

The average annual salary of an entry-level cognitive psychologist is approximately $66,399. If you possess over eight years of experience, you may earn an average of $116,534. These salaries can vary based on your focus within the field and your experience.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed. Salary figures reflect data listed on the quoted websites at time of writing. Salaries‌ ‌may‌ ‌‌vary‌‌ ‌depending‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌hiring‌ ‌organization‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌candidate's‌ ‌experience,‌ ‌academic‌ background‌, ‌and‌ ‌location.‌

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