The Psychology of Reading Behavioral and Cognitive

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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There is not a generic way to explain how people acquire knowledge. The learning process does not occur with cognition alone. Psychological theories classify learning into the behavioral and cognitive categories.

Behavioral Theory

The child’s environment makes learning possible. Skinner (1957) noted that a reinforcer, such as a child being able to successfully pronounce or making meaning of a word, encourages the repetition of a stimulus, which is the word that is written. Teachers can be on the same page as their students, known as contiguity, when they provide prompt feedback so that their learners can adjust their errors accordingly.

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A variance of the Behavioral Theory is the Social Learning Theory. If a teacher models his or her thinking aloud while reading, students are not only exposed to someone’s interest in reading but also learn the habits of a proficient reader. In addition, emphasizing prosody by properly pronouncing words and varying pitch while reading out loud demonstrates how important these features are for readers so that they can understand what they are reading. Another vital aspect of Behavioral Theory is that students complete tasks that are oriented towards their goals as individuals, while still participating in groups often.

Cognitive Theory

To figure out how people learn, cognitive psychologists not only conduct experimental studies but also gather information through clinical studies. The way that a person processes information occurs in stages, with various types of memory working together. The iconic memory is the initial stage of input and it has been questionable if readers either process letters in a word or a word in its entirety. Through an experiment with college students reading from a computer, it was proven by Just and Carpenter (1987) that readers pay attention to individual letters in words. Rayner and Kaiser (1975) discovered that students made more errors while reading altered text. Their study suggests that letter-sound association is pertinent for one to learn how to read. Short term memory is not a visual process (Liberman, Shankweiler, Liberman, Fowler, and Fischer, 1977). In fact, one must be able to decode print in order to understand it. Jean Piaget studied how human intelligence develops through maturation in the mind and experience. Today professionals employ his theory to explain that a child’s schema, or background knowledge, impacts his or her comprehension. Scaffolding, a three-level support system, was introduced by Lev Vygotsky to aid learners in language development. During guided reading, the child remains inside of the zone of proximal development until he or she can complete the task without teacher assistance (Aaron, Malatesha Joshi, and Quatroche, 2012).


Behavioral and cognitive aspects have their own responsibilities in the development of a child’s reading skills. The student is affected by his or her learning environment, schema, and restricted memory space. Providing literacy experiences that model a passion for reading as well as enabling the learner to independently and successfully fulfill tasks are two crucial targets that teachers should strive to meet.

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The Psychology of Reading Behavioral and Cognitive. (2019, May 16). Retrieved from