AskDefine | Define cognition

Dictionary Definition

cognition n : the psychological result of perception and learning and reasoning [syn: knowledge, noesis]

User Contributed Dictionary



  • (UK) /kɒgˈnɪʃən/, /kQg"nIS@n/
  • (US) /kɑgˈnɪʃən/, /kAg"nIs@n/
  • Hyphenation: cog·ni·tion


  1. The process of knowing.
  2. the consciously or sub-consciously comprehended senses; a comprehension of subjectivity


process of knowing


Extensive Definition

The term cognition is used in different ways by different disciplines. 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") is used in several loosely related ways to refer to a faculty for the human-like processing of information, applying knowledge and changing preferences. Cognition or cognitive processes can be natural and artificial, conscious and not conscious; therefore, they are analyzed from different perspectives and in different contexts, in anesthesia, neurology, psychology, philosophy, systemics and computer science. The concept of cognition is closely related to such abstract concepts as mind, reasoning, perception, intelligence, learning, and many others that describe numerous capabilities of the human mind and expected properties of artificial or synthetic intelligence. Cognition is an abstract property of advanced living organisms; therefore, it is studied as a direct property of a brain or of an abstract mind on sub-symbolic and symbolic levels.
In psychology and in artificial intelligence, it is used to refer to the mental functions, mental processes and states of intelligent entities (humans, human organizations, highly autonomous robots), with a particular focus toward the study of such mental processes as comprehension, inferencing, decision-making, planning and learning (see also cognitive science and cognitivism). Recently, advanced cognitive researchers have been especially focused on the capacities of abstraction, generalization, concretization/specialization and meta-reasoning which descriptions involve such concepts as beliefs, knowledge, desires, preferences and intentions of intelligent individuals/objects/agents/systems.
The term "cognition" 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 that culminates in both thought and action.

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; 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).

Influence and influences

This success has led to its application within a wide range of areas:
In its widest sense, the field is quite eclectic and draws from a number of areas, such as:

Cognitive ontology

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.

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.

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).

Cognition 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.


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

External links

cognition in Arabic: استعراف
cognition in Czech: Poznání
cognition in Danish: Tænkning
cognition in German: Kognition
cognition in Estonian: Tunnetus (psühholoogia)
cognition in Spanish: Cognición
cognition in Esperanto: Kognicio
cognition in Persian: شناخت
cognition in French: Cognition
cognition in Armenian: Իմացական գործընթացներ
cognition in Italian: Cognizione
cognition in Hebrew: הכרה
cognition in Latvian: Kognitīvie procesi
cognition in Dutch: cognitie
cognition in Japanese: 認識
cognition in Norwegian: Kognisjon
cognition in Norwegian Nynorsk: Kognisjon
cognition in Polish: Kognitywistyka
cognition in Portuguese: Cognição
cognition in Russian: Когнитивность
cognition in Finnish: Kognitio
cognition in Swedish: Kognition
cognition in Tamil: அறிதிறன்
cognition in Yiddish: קאגנישען
cognition in Chinese: 認知
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