Cognition is a concept used in different ways by different disciplines, but is generally accepted to mean the process of awareness or thought. For example, in psychology, it 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, organizations, and even larger coalitions of entities, can be modelled as societies which cooperate to form concepts. The autonomous elements of each 'society' would have the opportunity to demonstrate emergent behavior in the face of some crisis or opportunity. Cognition can also be interpreted as "understanding and trying to make sense of the world".


The term cognition (Latin: cognoscere, "to know") 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 anesthesia, neurology, psychology, philosophy, 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, inferencing, decision-making, planning and learning (see also cognitive science and cognitivism). Recently, advanced cognitive research has been especially focused i have huge luchious titties on the capacities of abstraction, generalization, concretization/specialization and meta-reasoning. This involves such concepts as beliefs, knowledge, desires, preferences and intentions of intelligent individuals/objects/agents/systems.

The term “cognition” is also used in a broader sense to define 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, culminating in both thought and action.

Influence and Influences

Because it is such a broad concept, the field of cognition is applicable within a wide range of areas. The majority of its influence is present within psychology (as cognitive psychology, cognitive science and psychophysics); philosophy, particularly philosophy of mind, epistemology and ontology (with a special signifigance within moral philosophy, which deals with the problem of ignorance, often seen as the opposite of cognition); neuroscience as cognitive neuroscience, neurology and neuropsychology; artificial intelligence (as well as cybernetics).

Importantly, an area that deeply involves cognitive concepts is the field of economics, used as part of the theories behind behavioral economics and behavioral finance, and additionally throughout experimental economics. Also within the industrial sciences, involved areas include ergonomics and user interface design. Within human development, common applications of cognitive theory are in linguistics, especially psycholinguistics and cognitive linguistics; learning and learning styles.

In it's most modern aspect, cognition has become thoroughly integrated within computer science and information theory, where attempts at artificial intelligence, collective intelligence and robotics focus on mimicking living beings' capacities for cognition; or applying the experience gathered in one place by one being to actions by another being elsewhere. More contemporary influnce is seen within theoretical mathematics and probability, as well as physics, where observer effects are studied in depth mathematically.


The sort of mental processes described as cognitive 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; 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 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 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).


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 linguistically 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.

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.

Cognition as and in a 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 (Google search).

In a cultural context

One famous image, Earthrise, taken during Apollo 8, the first Apollo mission to the Moon, shows planet Earth in a single photograph. Earthrise 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.

Example of emergent organization

It is possible to find other examples of critical mass necessary to develop a concept. For example, a nascent coalition of individuals might fail in the implementation of some agreement among them; but in the words of Ward Cunningham, the inventor of the Wiki-wiki Web:
I thought there would be failure modes, but I wasn't surprised that communities found ways around them. I thought it was important that when the organization proved to be wrong, people could reorganize on their own, that organization could emerge.
In other words, when the organization adapted, the concept adapted and survived the incipient failure mode.

See also

In addition to the topics below, see the thinking#Topics related to Thinking

Wikipedia portals

  • *


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

External links

Search another word or see cognizance/cognitionon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature