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Cognition is the scientific term for "the process of thought" to knowing. Usage of the term varies in different disciplines; for example in psychology and cognitive science, it usually refers to an information processing view of an individual's psychological functions. Other interpretations of the meaning of cognition link it to the development of concepts; individual minds, groups, and organizations.


The term cognition (Latin: cognoscere, "to know" or "to recognize") refers to a faculty for the processing of information, applying knowledge, and changing preferences. Cognition, or cognitive processes, can be natural or artificial, conscious or unconscious. These processes are analyzed from different perspectives within different contexts, notably in the fields of linguistics, anesthesia, neurology, psychology, philosophy, anthropology, systemics and computer science. Within psychology or philosophy, the concept of cognition is closely related to abstract concepts such as mind, reasoning, perception, intelligence, learning, and many others that describe capabilities of the mind and expected properties of an artificial or synthetic “mind”. Cognition is considered an abstract property of advanced living organisms and is studied as a direct property of a brain (or of an abstract mind) on at the factual and symbolic levels.

In psychology and in artificial intelligence, cognition is used to refer to the mental functions, mental processes (thoughts) and states of intelligent entities (humans, human organizations, highly autonomous machines). In particular, the field focuses toward the study of specific mental processes such as comprehension, inference, decision-making, planning and learning (see also cognitive science and cognitivism). Recently, advanced cognitive research has been especially focused on the capacities of abstraction, generalization, concretization/specialization and meta-reasoning. This involves such concepts as beliefs, knowledge, desire, preferences and intentions of intelligent individuals, object, agent or systems.


The sort of mental processes described as cognitive are largely influenced by research which has successfully used this paradigm in the past, likely starting with Thomas Aquinas, who divided the study of behavior into two broad categories: cognitive (how we know the world), and affect (feelings and emotions). Consequently, this description tends to apply to processes such as memory, association, concept formation, language, attention, perception, action, problem solving and mental imagery. Traditionally, emotion was not thought of as a cognitive process. This division is now regarded as largely artificial, and much research is currently being undertaken to examine the cognitive psychology of emotion; research also includes one's awareness of strategies and methods of cognition, known as metacognition.

Empirical research into cognition is usually scientific and quantitative, or involves creating models to describe or explain certain behaviors.

While few people would deny that cognitive processes are a function of the brain, a cognitive theory will not necessarily make reference to the brain or other biological process (compare neurocognitive). It may purely describe behaviour in terms of information flow or function. Relatively recent fields of study such as cognitive science and neuropsychology aim to bridge this gap, using cognitive paradigms to understand how the brain implements these information-processing functions (see also cognitive neuroscience), or how pure information-processing systems (e.g., computers) can simulate cognition (see also artificial intelligence). The branch of psychology that studies brain injury to infer normal cognitive function is called cognitive neuropsychology. The links of cognition to evolutionary demands are studied through the investigation of animal cognition. And conversely, evolutionary-based perspectives can inform hypotheses about cognitive functional systems evolutionary psychology.

The theoretical school of thought derived from the cognitive approach is often called cognitivism.

The phenomenal success of the cognitive approach can be seen by its current dominance as the core model in contemporary psychology (usurping behaviorism in the late 1950s).

The Cognitive MazeThe concept of the cognitive maze was developed by Frank DeFulgentis in his book 'Flux.' He describes it as being trapped in a mental compulsion. The idea is a synthesis of Edward Tolman's concept of the cognitive map, Alfred Korzybski's claim that the map is not the territory, and Werner Heisenberg who said that once we have begun to observe something we have changed it.

DeFulgentis postulates that when people with OCD actively try to ignore their obsessions and compulsions they only get drawn in further. Once I begin to measure what my position is, I have changed it. If I am not really worried about this, then why do I keep thinking about it? And so, not only has my concern become an obsession but I now have a second obsession running parallel with the first. This is based on the idea that OCD stems from a lack of certainty. The danger often lies in trying to find the quick fix, the instant certainty that we are right, and that everything is OK, so that our anxiety will be instantly relieved.

As compression

By the 1980s, researchers in the Engineering departments of the University of Leedsmarker, UKmarker hypothesized that 'Cognition is a form of compression', i.e., cognition was an economic, not just a philosophical or a psychological, process; in other words, skill in the process of cognition confers a competitive advantage. An implication of this view is that choices about what to cognize are being made at all levels from the neurological expression up to species-wide priority setting; in other words, the compression process is a form of optimization. This is a force for self-organizing behavior; thus we have the opportunity to see samples of emergent behavior at each successive level, from individual, to groups of individuals, to formal organizations.

Cognition as social process

It has been observed since antiquity that language acquisition in human children fails to emerge unless the children are exposed to language. Thus, language acquisition is an example of an emergent behavior. In this case, the individual is made up of a set of mechanisms 'expecting' such input from the social world.

In education, for instance, which has the explicit task in society of developing child cognition, choices are made regarding the environment and permitted action that lead to a formed experience. In social cognition, face perception in human babies emerges by the age of two months. This is in turn affected by the risk or cost of providing these, for instance, those associated with a playground or swimming pool or field trip. On the other hand, the macro-choices made by the teachers are extremely influential on the micro-choices made by children.

In a large systemic perspective, cognition is considered closely related to the social and human organization functioning and constrains. Managerial decision making processes can be erroneous in politics, economy and industry for the reason of different reciprocally dependent socio-cognitive factors. This domain became the field of interest of emergent socio-cognitive engineering.

See also

In addition to the topics below, see the

Wikipedia portals


  1. Piaget's Stage Theory of Cognition[1]
  2. Sensation & Perception, 5th ed. 1999, Coren, Ward & Enns, p. 9

Further reading

  • Lycan, W.G., (ed.). (1999). Mind and Cognition: An Anthology, 2nd Edition. Malden, Mass: Blackwell Publishers, Inc.

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