The term cognition is used in several different loosely related ways. In psychology it is used to refer to the mental processeses of an individual, with particular relation to a view that argues that the mind has internal mental states (such as beliefs, desires and intentions) and can be understood in terms of information processing, especially when a lot of abstraction or concretization is involved, or processes such as involving knowledge, expertise or learning for example are at work. It is also used in a wider sense to mean the act of knowing or knowledge, and may be interpreted in a social or cultural sense to describe the emergent development of knowledge and concepts within a group.
Cognition in mainstream psychology
The sort of mental processes described as cognitive or cognitive processes are largely influenced by research which has successfully used this paradigm in the past. Consequently this description tends to apply to processes such as memory, 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.
Empirical research into cognition is usually scientific and quantitative, or involves creating models to describe or explain certain behaviours.
Whilst few people would deny that cognitive processes are the responsibility of the brain, a cognitive theory will not necessarily make any reference to the brain or any 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 which 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.
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).
Influence and influences
This success has led to it being applied in a wide range of areas:
In its widest sense, the field is quite eclectic and draws from a number of areas, such as:
On an individual being level, these questions are studied by the separate fields above, but are also more integrated into cognitive ontology of various kinds. This challenges the older linguisticallyally-dependent views of ontology, wherein one could debate being, perceiving, and doing, with no cognizance of innate human limits, varying human lifeways, and loyalties that may let a being "know" something (see qualia) that for others remains very much in doubt.
On the level of an individual mind, an emergent behavior might be the formation of a new concept, 'bubbling up' from below the conscious level of the mind. A simple way of stating this is that beings preserve their own attention and are at every level concerned with avoiding interruption and distraction. Such cognitive specialization can be observed in particular in language, with adults markedly less able to hear or say distinctions made in languages to which they were not exposed in youth.
Cognition as compression
By the 1980s, researchers in the Engineering departments of the University of Leeds, UK 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, to societies.
Cognition as a social process
In multiple observations, some dating back to antiquity, language acquisition in human children, fails to emerge unless the children are spoken to. Thus 'language acquisition' is an example of an 'emergent behavior', which in fact requires a group. In this case, the individuals form coalitions in order to enable the emergent behavior.
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. 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. The macro-choices made by the political economy in effect will be extremely influential on the micro-choices made by the teachers or children. So at least on this level, there is obvious feedback between the economic choice and the psychology of the activity, and philosophy of rationalizations proposed.
In social cognition, face perception in human babies emerges by the age of two months.
Cognition in a cultural context
One famous image taken during the first Apollo mission to the Moon, Earthrise, which shows planet Earth in a single photograph, is now the icon for Earth Day, which did not arise until after the image became widespread. At this level, an example of an 'emergent behavior' might be concern for 'Spaceship Earth', as encouraged by the development of orbiting space observatories etc.
Other concepts which seem to have arisen only recently (in the last century) include increased expectations for human rights. In this case, an example of an 'emergent behavior' might perhaps be the use of the mass media to publicize inequities in the human condition, perhaps using highly portable cameras and telephones.
Cognition is a diffuse term and is used in radically different ways by different disciplines. In psychology, it refers to an information processing view of an individual's psychological functions. Wider interpretations of the meaning of cognition link it to the development of concepts. Individual minds, groups, organizations, and even larger coalitions can be modelled as societies which cooperate to form concepts. The autonomous elements of each 'society' would have the opportunity to demonstrate emergent behavior.
- Cognition An international journal publishing theoretical and experimental papers on the study of the mind.
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The Human Nature Daily Review
Links, with brief abstracts, to recent news items in the brain and behavioural sciences, including the cognitive sciences, psychiatry, and anthropology - frequently updated.
An index of Cognitive Science resources available on the Internet.
Human Cognition in the Human Brain
Yehouda Harpaz' model of human cognition, along with links to associated texts, including extensive critiques of publications associated with cognitive science.
COGSCI Cognitive Science Discussion List
Website for the International Cognitive Science Discussion List).
Studies the role of the parietal cortex in the processing of visual spatial information, and how such information is used to direct eye and arm movements. Many publications available online.
Towards a cognitive science of science
A study of the cognitive basis of science. Special attention is given to implications for physics and mathematics. By Razvan Florian, a Romanian Physics student studying in Paris.
Brain and Behavior, from Serendip
Interactive exhibits, forum, and links aimed at exploring the observational basis and significance of the assertion that the nervous system underlies all aspects of human behavior and experience.
CognitiveScience.org is an interactive online community for Cognitive Science and related fields. The site provides a discussion forum, academic listings, and links to related web sites.
Subscription based service from MIT Press giving access to full text coyrighted material, discussions, and news.
A personal account of face blindness (prosopagnosia), by a sufferer.
Cognitive Technology Society
Concerned with the impact on human cognition of developments in information technology.
Science writer John McCrone's view of "the latest frontier in mind science" - a dynamical view of the brain and consciousness.
Institut des Sciences Cognitives
The National Center for Scientific Research in France promoting study of cognition, especially in humans. Many of the working papers and links to other websites are in English.
Austrian Society for Cognitive Science
Sponsors seminars and a conference for cognitive science in Austria.
Max Planck Institute for Psychological Research, Berlin
Focused on the study of cognition and action.
MIT Press - Recent books on Cognition, Brain, and Behavior.
Annotated Bibliography Of Mind-Related Topics
An annotated bibliography of cognitive science, artificial intelligence, neurobiology, artificial life, linguistics, neural networks, connectionism, cognitive psychology, consciousness.
Computational Epistemology Lab
A facility for research into Cognitive Science and related areas of Philosophy. Headed by Paul Thagard, at the University of Waterloo, Canada.
Links to many interactive illusions, demos, games and toys related to Cognitive Science.
Humanoid Robotics Group
MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory group led by Rodney Brooks. Working on robots Cog, Kismet, Coco & Macaco.
Celebrities in Cognitive Science
Links page to writings by and about leading thinkers in cognitive science, and critics and observers of the cognitive sciences.
AI Core MOO Java Telnet
A virtual world for AI Researchers. Active and growing population, lively topics, and fun bots.
ACT Research Home Page
John Anderson's ACT-R theory of cognition is a cognitive architecture aimed at computer simulating a full range of cognitive tasks.
Blending and Conceptual Integration
Conceptual metaphor theory from Mark Turner.
Online book on a machine learning system, by Walter Fritz.
Cognitive Science Society
The premier professional organization in the field. Information on membership, conferences, and the journal Cognitive Science (including abstracts of recent and upcoming articles).
Imagination, Mental Imagery, Consciousness, Cognition: Science, Philosophy & History.
The philosophical, scientific, and historical study of imagination and mental imagery, and their role in consciousness and cognition. Material by the site's creator and many links to other related sites.
Telerobotics and Neurology
At UC Berkeley. Studies of eye movements (scanpaths), image processing, and virtual reality.
The Memory Exhibition
Explores the biological, psychological, and cultural aspects of memory, from personal experiences to breakthroughs in cognitive science.
Percepts and Concepts Laboratory
Researching the interactions between perception and cognition. Director: Robert Goldstone.
The Computer Revolution in Philosophy
An online (scanned) version of the seminal 1978 book by Aaron Sloman.
Cognitive Science Dictionary
A glossary of Cognitive Science terminology. From Dr. Michael Dawson of the University of Alberta.
European Institute of Cognitive Sciences and Engineering
Research areas: cognition and design (design knowledge and rationale, cognitive analysis), cognition and the use of machines (ergonomics, human factors) cognition and organizations (corporate memory, psycho-sociological issues).
The Modularity Home Page
Links to resources and online papers on modularity in cognitive sciences, neurosciences, evolutionary biology and AI.
An interdisciplinary lab at the interface between the humanities the social sciences and the cognitive sciences. Content in French and English.
Imagination is Greater than Knowledge
Outlines a subjective concept of science and the role of cognitive processes that support the structures of scientific theory.
Cognitive Task Analysis Resource
Provides education, documents, and an on-line community for Cognitive Task Analysis. (CTA describes some aspect of human operation and cognitive processing within a work domain.)
Clinical Cognitive Neuroscience Center, Seoul, Korea
Studies of cognitive function via EEG, PET, and MRI with clinical diagnosis.
Developmental Neurolinguistics Lab, City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center
Electrophysiology research investigating infant language development, language processing in normal monolingual and multilingual adults, and language processing in stuttering.
Good collection of links to Cognitive Science Researcher's home pages, and to relevant journals (online and paper).
A resource on memory and memory disorders. Information includes: books, journals, test publications, links to associations and upcoming conferences. From Psychology Press.
The Mind Project
Illinois State University cognitive science research and curriculum development project.
Facial Expression Resources on the Web
Links to resources for research on facial expressions.
Encyclopedia of Cognitive Science
Reference work (published 2003) from the publishers of the journal Nature. This site exists mainly to persuade you to buy the print encyclopedia, but also makes several sample entries available.
10 Classic Cognitive Science Papers
Ten papers, originally published in the journal Cognitive Science, and judged by the editors to be classics of the field, made available for free download.
Is the Brain Really Necessary?
Article from "Science" magazine about persons with "virtually no brain" but normal or above-average IQs.
University of Southern California Brain Project
Integrates research in the neuroscience of synaptic plasticity and visuomotor coordination with research in Neuroinformatics to study the relations between structure and function.
Supplies daily news of the cognitive sciences via user submissions.
The Brain Research Company
A company providing a standardized "evidence based" profile of brain function and cognition.
Foresight Project - Cognitive Systems
British government program to promote research in cognitive sciences, neuroscience, and computer science.
The "mental models" theory of thinking and reasoning, as propounded by Kenneth Craik and Philip Johnson-Laird. Site created by Johnson-Laird and Ruth Byrne.
Visual Illusions to Demonstrate an Empirical Theory of Vision
Article about a theory that all visual perceptions (illusory or otherwise) are an evolved set of behavioral reflexes.
Prosopagnosia ( Face Blindness )
The author explains this particular condition and how those afflicted with this condition use other techniques to recognize people.
The condition of prosopagnosia, or "face blindness," from the perspective of a person who suffers from it.
JND.org: In Praise of Good Design
The author of "The Design of Everyday Things" writes essays on design, education, emotion and design, people, technology and society, and television.
Interdisciplines: Art and Cognition
Virtual conference featuring ten target papers and discussions on the intersection between aesthetic experience, theories of perception and cognition. Content in english/french.
Adaptive Behavior and Cognition
[Berlin] The lab, based at the Max-Planck-Institute for Human Development, explores cognitive strategies (including social and emotional components) with which people and other animals make judgments and decisions in the face of uncertain situations. Staff, publications and current projects.
Cognitive Neuroscience Society
Committed to the development of mind and brain research on the psychological, computational, and neuroscientific bases of perception and cognition.
Non-Cartesian Cognitive Science
Essays and many useful links on embodied and 'situated' approaches to cognition: ranging from Artificial Life to Phenomenology, and much else.
COGPRINTS: Cognitive Sciences Eprint Archive
Cogprints makes preprints and reprints of papers in all areas of the cognitive sciences openly available on-line. Authors can deposit their work here, and all may freely read it. Directed by Stevan Harnad (best known as editor of Behavioral and Brain Sciences).