What is Parallel Processing Psychology?

This blog answers: What is parallel processing psychology? Where did parallel processing’s concept originate from in psychology? How does parallel processing work?

What is parallel processing psychology?

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Parallel processing is a psychological concept related specifically to the subfield of cognitive psychology, which refers to our brain’s ability to process many stimuli at the same time. Our brain is a multitasker. It performs many different tasks simultaneously and highly efficiently.

Our brains receive many different stimuli of different quality from the environment and process them all at once. A common example of parallel processing is driving.

When we are driving, our brains are performing multiple tasks, such as focusing on the road, focusing on the color, depth, position, motion, and shape of different objects on the road, the sounds of the car and from the environment, music if we are listening some at the moment, conversation if we are talking to someone while driving, etc.

Parallel processing makes the brain highly efficient because processing multiple stimuli one at a time would be too costly and time taking.

Where did parallel processing’s concept originate from in psychology?

Parallel processing has its root in information processing, a concept that originated in the twentieth century after the invention of computers.

That’s why psychologists and neuroscientists often use the analogy of computers to explain how the brain processes information.

Information processing refers to the processing of information by the brain from the moment the brain receives it to the moment it results in an output. During this time, the information is stored and interpreted in the brain, with the final step resulting in an output.

How does parallel processing work?

In parallel processing, the brain receives multiple stimuli or information all at once and then processes all the information simultaneously. An example would help explain how this process works. Let’s say you are walking down a road with your headphones on, and you are listening to music.

Here is what your brain is doing, and it is doing it all at once:

  • Listening to the music
  • Comprehending the lyrics of the music.
  • Processing the color of the road.
  • Processing the position, motion, depth, color, and shapes of objects on the road.

The brain is doing all of this at once because the alternative is a bad choice. If the brain processed the music, the lyrics, the color of objects, the position, depth, shape, etc. of objects, one by one, then it would take a lot of time for the information to process.

This would make information processing very ineffective. Parallel processing makes information processing faster and more efficient. The brain receives all the information, sends it to their respective regions in the brain, interprets it, and results in relevant outcomes.

What processes does the brain rely on during parallel processing?

There are two processes that the brain relies on during parallel processing:

  • Top-down information processing and
  • Bottom-up information processing.

Top-down Information Processing:

During top-down information processing, the brain uses previously learned information and knowledge in order to interpret and process incoming stimuli. For example, your brain uses previously learned experience in order to interpret whether a person walking towards you is a threat or just someone who wants to pass by or greet you.

Bottom-up Information Processing:

In bottom-up information processing, the brain totally relies on the incoming information only and doesn’t utilize any previously learned information. The brain takes the information in, analyses different aspects of it, and then forms a complete and coherent picture from that information. For example, while reading a book, your eyes see individual letters and pass that information on to the brain to form a complete picture.


The brain is a highly complex organ. It can deal with extremely complex information and process in a very fast and efficient manner. There are always the constraints of time and resources while processing information.

Information processing is highly complex, expensive, and time taking. The brain solves these problems by resorting to parallel processing, processing multiple stimuli all at once. The brain processes multiple information all at once, it also connects the different bits of information simultaneously.

Frequently asked questions: What is Parallel Processing Psychology?

What is the difference between automaticity and parallel processing?

During parallel processing, the brain process different information all at once. During automaticity, the brain automates this process for very specific kinds of information. For instance, someone who frequently types on a keyboard performs the process of typing almost automatically.

This is because the person’s brain has gained enough experience to automatically perform the process. Someone who is not an experienced typist doesn’t have the same privilege.

Is Parallel Processing beneficial?

Parallel processing is beneficial because it speeds up information processing. It enables the brain to process large amounts and types of information in a short time.

What are some limitations of parallel processing?

The brain can’t take an infinite amount of information, which is one of the limitations of parallel processing. Apart from that, our brains generally pay attention to specific and salient environmental details. Too much parallel processing can also result in exhaustion.

Which brain function is most associated with parallel processing?

Parallel processing is mainly associated with vision.

What is an example of parallel processing in psychology?

An example of parallel processing in psychology is seeing a car approaching you observing its colors, depth, shape, and motion altogether.

What is the parallel process in therapy?

The parallel process in therapy is a way in which the therapist tries to recreate or parallels the client’s problems by relating to the supervisor. The client’s transference and the therapist’s countertransference re-appears in the mirror of the therapist, supervisor’s relationship.

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