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Cognition refers to "the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses". It encompasses all aspects of intellectual functions and processes such as: perception, attention, thought,
intelligence Intelligence has been defined in many ways: the capacity for abstraction, logic Logic is the study of correct reasoning. It includes both formal and informal logic. Formal logic is the science of deductively valid inferences or of lo ...
, the formation of
knowledge Knowledge can be defined as awareness of facts or as practical skills, and may also refer to familiarity with objects or situations. Knowledge of facts, also called propositional knowledge, is often defined as true belief that is dist ...
,
memory Memory is the faculty of the mind by which data or information is encoded, stored, and retrieved when needed. It is the retention of information over time for the purpose of influencing future action. If past events could not be remember ...
and working memory, judgment and
evaluation Evaluation is a system A system is a group of interacting or interrelated elements that act according to a set of rules to form a unified whole. A system, surrounded and influenced by its environment, is described by its boundaries, structu ...
, reasoning and computation,
problem solving Problem solving is the process of achieving a goal by overcoming obstacles, a frequent part of most activities. Problems in need of solutions range from simple personal tasks (e.g. how to turn on an appliance) to complex issues in business an ...
and
decision making In psychology Psychology is the scientific study of mind and behavior. Psychology includes the study of conscious and unconscious phenomena, including feelings and thoughts. It is an academic discipline of immense scope, crossing ...
, comprehension and production of
language Language is a structured system of communication. The structure of a language is its grammar and the free components are its vocabulary. Languages are the primary means by which human Humans (''Homo sapiens'') are the most abundant ...
. Imagination is also a cognitive process, it is considered as such because it involves thinking about possibilities. Cognitive processes use existing knowledge and discover new knowledge. Cognitive processes are analyzed from different perspectives within different contexts, notably in the fields of
linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of human Humans (''Homo sapiens'') are the most abundant and widespread species of primate, characterized by bipedalism and exceptional cognitive skills due to a large and complex brain. This ...
,
musicology Musicology (from Greek μουσική ''mousikē'' 'music' and -λογια ''-logia'', 'domain of study') is the scholarly analysis and research-based study of music Music is generally defined as the art of arranging sound to create ...
, anesthesia, neuroscience,
psychiatry Psychiatry is the medical specialty devoted to the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of mental disorders. These include various maladaptations related to mood, behaviour, cognition, and perceptions. See glossary of psychiatry. Initial ...
,
psychology Psychology is the scientific study of mind and behavior. Psychology includes the study of conscious and unconscious phenomena, including feelings and thoughts. It is an academic discipline of immense scope, crossing the boundaries be ...
,
education Education is a purposeful activity directed at achieving certain aims, such as transmitting knowledge or fostering skills and character traits. These aims may include the development of understanding, rationality, kindness, and honest ...
,
philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the systematized study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about existence, reason, knowledge, values, mind, and language. Such questions are often posed as problems to be studied or resolved. ...
,
anthropology Anthropology is the scientific study of humanity, concerned with human behavior, human biology, cultures, societies, and linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of human Humans (''Homo sapiens'') are the most abu ...
,
biology Biology is the scientific study of life. It is a natural science with a broad scope but has several unifying themes that tie it together as a single, coherent field. For instance, all organisms are made up of cells that process heredita ...
, systemics,
logic Logic is the study of correct reasoning. It includes both formal and informal logic. Formal logic is the science of deductively valid inferences or of logical truths. It is a formal science investigating how conclusions follow from prem ...
, and
computer science Computer science is the study of computation, automation, and information. Computer science spans theoretical disciplines (such as algorithms, theory of computation, information theory, and automation) to practical disciplines (inclu ...
. These and other approaches to the analysis of cognition (such as embodied cognition) are synthesized in the developing field of cognitive science, a progressively autonomous academic discipline.


Etymology

The word ''cognition'' dates back to the 15th century, where it meant " thinking and awareness". The term comes from the
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally a dialect spoken in the lower Tiber area (then known as Latium) around present-day Rome, but through ...
noun ('examination,' 'learning,' or 'knowledge'), derived from the verb , a compound of ('with') and ('know'). The latter half, ''gnōscō'', itself is a cognate of a Greek verb, ' ().


Early studies

Despite the word ''cognitive'' itself dating back to the 15th century, attention to ''cognitive processes'' came about more than eighteen centuries earlier, beginning with
Aristotle Aristotle (; grc-gre, Ἀριστοτέλης ''Aristotélēs'', ; 384–322 BC) was a Greek philosopher and polymath during the Classical period in Ancient Greece. Taught by Plato, he was the founder of the Peripatetic school of ...
(384–322 BC) and his interest in the inner workings of the mind and how they affect the human experience. Aristotle focused on cognitive areas pertaining to memory, perception, and mental imagery. He placed great importance on ensuring that his studies were based on empirical evidence, that is, scientific information that is gathered through observation and conscientious experimentation. Two millennia later, the groundwork for modern concepts of cognition was laid during the Enlightenment by thinkers such as John Locke and Dugald Stewart who sought to develop a model of the mind in which ideas were acquired, remembered and manipulated. During the early nineteenth century cognitive models were developed both in
philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the systematized study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about existence, reason, knowledge, values, mind, and language. Such questions are often posed as problems to be studied or resolved. ...
—particularly by authors writing about the philosophy of mind—and within
medicine Medicine is the science Science is a systematic endeavor that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe. Science may be as old as the human species, and some of the ea ...
, especially by physicians seeking to understand how to cure madness. In Britain, these models were studied in the academy by scholars such as James Sully at
University College London , mottoeng = Let all come who by merit deserve the most reward , established = , type = Public research university , endowment = £143 million (2020) , budget = ...
, and they were even used by politicians when considering the national ''Elementary Education Act'' of 1870. As
psychology Psychology is the scientific study of mind and behavior. Psychology includes the study of conscious and unconscious phenomena, including feelings and thoughts. It is an academic discipline of immense scope, crossing the boundaries be ...
emerged as a burgeoning field of study in
Europe Europe is a large peninsula conventionally considered a continent in its own right because of its great physical size and the weight of its history and traditions. Europe is also considered a Continent#Subcontinents, subcontinent of Eurasia ...
, whilst also gaining a following in America, scientists such as Wilhelm Wundt, Herman Ebbinghaus, Mary Whiton Calkins, and William James would offer their contributions to the study of human cognition.


Early theorists

Wilhelm Wundt (1832–1920) emphasized the notion of what he called '' introspection'': examining the inner feelings of an individual. With introspection, the subject had to be careful to describe their feelings in the most objective manner possible in order for Wundt to find the information scientific. Though Wundt's contributions are by no means minimal, modern psychologists find his methods to be too subjective and choose to rely on more objective procedures of experimentation to make conclusions about the human cognitive process. Hermann Ebbinghaus (1850–1909) conducted cognitive studies that mainly examined the function and capacity of human memory. Ebbinghaus developed his own experiment in which he constructed over 2,000 syllables made out of nonexistent words (for instance, 'EAS'). He then examined his own personal ability to learn these non-words. He purposely chose non-words as opposed to real words to control for the influence of pre-existing experience on what the words might symbolize, thus enabling easier recollection of them. Ebbinghaus observed and hypothesized a number of variables that may have affected his ability to learn and recall the non-words he created. One of the reasons, he concluded, was the amount of time between the presentation of the list of stimuli and the recitation or recall of the same. Ebbinghaus was the first to record and plot a " learning curve" and a " forgetting curve". His work heavily influenced the study of serial position and its effect on memory (discussed further below). Mary Whiton Calkins (1863–1930) was an influential American pioneer in the realm of psychology. Her work also focused on human memory capacity. A common theory, called the recency effect, can be attributed to the studies that she conducted. The recency effect, also discussed in the subsequent experiment section, is the tendency for individuals to be able to accurately recollect the final items presented in a sequence of stimuli. Calkin's theory is closely related to the aforementioned study and conclusion of the memory experiments conducted by Hermann Ebbinghaus. William James (1842–1910) is another pivotal figure in the history of cognitive science. James was quite discontent with Wundt's emphasis on introspection and Ebbinghaus' use of nonsense stimuli. He instead chose to focus on the human learning experience in everyday life and its importance to the study of cognition. James' most significant contribution to the study and theory of cognition was his textbook ''Principles of Psychology'' which preliminarily examines aspects of cognition such as perception, memory, reasoning, and attention. René Descartes (1596-1650) was a seventeenth-century philosopher who came up with the phrase "Cogito, ergo sum." Which means "I think, therefore I am." He took a philosophical approach to the study of cognition and the mind, with his Meditations he wanted people to meditate along with him to come to the same conclusions as he did but in their own free cognition.


Psychology

In
psychology Psychology is the scientific study of mind and behavior. Psychology includes the study of conscious and unconscious phenomena, including feelings and thoughts. It is an academic discipline of immense scope, crossing the boundaries be ...
, the term "cognition" is usually used within an information processing view of an individual's psychological functions, and such is the same in cognitive engineering. In the study of social cognition, a branch of social psychology, the term is used to explain attitudes, attribution, and group dynamics. However, psychological research within the field of cognitive science has also suggested an embodied approach to understanding cognition. Contrary to the traditional computationalist approach, embodied cognition emphasizes the body's significant role in the acquisition and development of cognitive capabilities. Human cognition is conscious and unconscious,
concrete Concrete is a composite material composed of fine and coarse aggregate bonded together with a fluid cement (cement paste) that hardens (cures) over time. Concrete is the second-most-used substance in the world after water, and is the most ...
or abstract, as well as intuitive (like knowledge of a language) and conceptual (like a model of a language). It encompasses processes such as
memory Memory is the faculty of the mind by which data or information is encoded, stored, and retrieved when needed. It is the retention of information over time for the purpose of influencing future action. If past events could not be remember ...
, association, concept formation, pattern recognition,
language Language is a structured system of communication. The structure of a language is its grammar and the free components are its vocabulary. Languages are the primary means by which human Humans (''Homo sapiens'') are the most abundant ...
, attention, perception, action,
problem solving Problem solving is the process of achieving a goal by overcoming obstacles, a frequent part of most activities. Problems in need of solutions range from simple personal tasks (e.g. how to turn on an appliance) to complex issues in business an ...
, and mental imagery. Traditionally, emotion was not thought of as a cognitive process, but now much research is being undertaken to examine the cognitive psychology of emotion; research is also focused on one's awareness of one's own strategies and methods of cognition, which is called metacognition. The concept of cognition has gone through several revisions through the development of disciplines within psychology. Psychologists initially understood cognition governing human action as information processing. This was a movement known as cognitivism in the 1950s, emerging after the Behaviorist movement viewed cognition as a form of behavior. Cognitivism approached cognition as a form of computation, viewing the mind as a machine and consciousness as an executive function. However; post cognitivism began to emerge in the 1990s as the development of cognitive science presented theories that highlighted the necessity of cognitive action as embodied, extended, and producing dynamic processes in the mind. The development of Cognitive psychology arose as psychology from different theories, and so began exploring these dynamics concerning mind and environment, starting a movement from these prior dualist paradigms that prioritized cognition as systematic computation or exclusively behavior.


Piaget's theory of cognitive development

For years, sociologists and psychologists have conducted studies on cognitive development, i.e. the construction of human thought or mental processes. Jean Piaget was one of the most important and influential people in the field of developmental psychology. He believed that humans are unique in comparison to animals because we have the capacity to do "abstract symbolic reasoning". His work can be compared to Lev Vygotsky,
Sigmund Freud Sigmund Freud ( , ; born Sigismund Schlomo Freud; 6 May 1856 – 23 September 1939) was an Austrian neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis, a clinical method for evaluating and treating psychopathology, pathologies explained as originatin ...
, and Erik Erikson who were also great contributors in the field of developmental psychology. Today, Piaget is known for studying the cognitive development in children, having studied his own three children and their intellectual development, from which he would come to a theory of cognitive development that describes the developmental stages of childhood.


Common types of tests on human cognition

Serial position The '' serial position experiment'' is meant to test a theory of memory that states that when information is given in a serial manner, we tend to remember information at the beginning of the sequence, called the ''primacy effect'', and information at the end of the sequence, called the ''recency effect''. Consequently, information given in the middle of the sequence is typically forgotten, or not recalled as easily. This study predicts that the recency effect is stronger than the primacy effect, because the information that is most recently learned is still in working memory when asked to be recalled. Information that is learned first still has to go through a retrieval process. This experiment focuses on human memory processes. Word superiority The '' word superiority experiment'' presents a subject with a word, or a letter by itself, for a brief period of time, i.e. 40ms, and they are then asked to recall the letter that was in a particular location in the word. In theory, the subject should be better able to correctly recall the letter when it was presented in a word than when it was presented in isolation. This experiment focuses on human speech and language. Brown-Peterson In the '' Brown-Peterson experiment'', participants are briefly presented with a trigram and in one particular version of the experiment, they are then given a distractor task, asking them to identify whether a sequence of words is in fact words, or non-words (due to being misspelled, etc.). After the distractor task, they are asked to recall the trigram from before the distractor task. In theory, the longer the distractor task, the harder it will be for participants to correctly recall the trigram. This experiment focuses on human short-term memory. Memory span During the '' memory span experiment'', each subject is presented with a sequence of stimuli of the same kind; words depicting objects, numbers, letters that sound similar, and letters that sound dissimilar. After being presented with the stimuli, the subject is asked to recall the sequence of stimuli that they were given in the exact order in which it was given. In one particular version of the experiment, if the subject recalled a list correctly, the list length was increased by one for that type of material, and vice versa if it was recalled incorrectly. The theory is that people have a memory span of about seven items for numbers, the same for letters that sound dissimilar and short words. The memory span is projected to be shorter with letters that sound similar and with longer words. Visual search In one version of the '' visual search experiment'', a participant is presented with a window that displays circles and squares scattered across it. The participant is to identify whether there is a green circle on the window. In the ''featured'' search, the subject is presented with several trial windows that have blue squares or circles and one green circle or no green circle in it at all. In the '' conjunctive'' search, the subject is presented with trial windows that have blue circles or green squares and a present or absent green circle whose presence the participant is asked to identify. What is expected is that in the feature searches, reaction time, that is the time it takes for a participant to identify whether a green circle is present or not, should not change as the number of distractors increases. Conjunctive searches where the target is absent should have a longer reaction time than the conjunctive searches where the target is present. The theory is that in feature searches, it is easy to spot the target, or if it is absent, because of the difference in color between the target and the distractors. In conjunctive searches where the target is absent, reaction time increases because the subject has to look at each shape to determine whether it is the target or not because some of the distractors if not all of them, are the same color as the target stimuli. Conjunctive searches where the target is present take less time because if the target is found, the search between each shape stops. Knowledge representation The semantic network of
knowledge representation Knowledge representation and reasoning (KRR, KR&R, KR²) is the field of artificial intelligence Artificial intelligence (AI) is intelligence—perceiving, synthesizing, and inferring information—demonstrated by machines, as opposed to ...
systems have been studied in various paradigms. One of the oldest paradigms is the leveling and sharpening of stories as they are repeated from memory studied by Bartlett. The semantic differential used factor analysis to determine the main meanings of words, finding that value or "goodness" of words is the first factor. More controlled experiments examine the categorical relationships of words in free recall. The hierarchical structure of words has been explicitly mapped in George Miller's Wordnet. More dynamic models of semantic networks have been created and tested with neural network experiments based on computational systems such as latent semantic analysis (LSA), Bayesian analysis, and multidimensional factor analysis. The semantics (meaning) of words is studied by all the disciplines of cognitive science.


Metacognition


Improving cognition


Physical exercise

Aerobic and anaerobic exercise have been studied concerning cognitive improvement. There appear to be short-term increases in attention span, verbal and visual memory in some studies. However, the effects are transient and diminish over time, after cessation of the physical activity.


Dietary supplements

Studies evaluating
phytoestrogen A phytoestrogen is a plant-derived xenoestrogen (see estrogen Estrogen or oestrogen is a category of sex hormone responsible for the development and regulation of the female reproductive system and secondary sex characteristics. There are ...
, blueberry supplementation and antioxidants showed minor increases in cognitive function after supplementation but no significant effects compared to placebo.


Pleasurable social stimulation

Exposing individuals with cognitive impairment (i.e., Dementia) to daily activities designed to stimulate thinking and memory in a social setting, seems to improve cognition. Although study materials are small, and larger studies need to confirm the results, the effect of social cognitive stimulation seems to be larger than the effects of some drug treatments.


Other methods

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) has been shown to improve cognition in individuals without dementia 1 month after treatment session compared to before treatment. The effect was not significantly larger compared to placebo. Computerized cognitive training, utilising a computer based training regime for different cognitive functions has been examined in a clinical setting but no lasting effects has been shown.


See also

* Cognitive Abilities Screening Instrument * Cognitive biology * Cognitive computing * Cognitive holding power * Cognitive liberty * Cognitive musicology * Cognitive psychology * Cognitive science * Cognitivism * Comparative cognition * Embodied cognition * Information processing technology and aging * Mental chronometry – i.e., the measuring of cognitive processing speed *
Nootropic Nootropics ( , or ) ( colloquial: smart drugs and cognitive enhancers, similar to adaptogens) are a wide range of natural or synthetic supplements or drugs and other substances that are claimed to improve cognitive function or to promote ...
* Outline of human intelligence – a list of traits, capacities, models, and research fields of human intelligence, and more. * Outline of thought – a list that identifies many types of thoughts, types of thinking, aspects of thought, related fields, and more.


References


Further reading

* * * *


External links


''Cognition''
An international journal publishing theoretical and experimental papers on the study of the mind.
Information on music cognition, University of Amsterdam

Cognitie.NL
Information on cognition research, Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) and University of Amsterdam (UvA) * Emotional and Decision Making Lab, Carnegie Mellon
EDM Lab

The Limits of Human Cognition
– an article describing the evolution of mammals' cognitive abilities


The limits of intelligence
Douglas Fox, ''
Scientific American ''Scientific American'', informally abbreviated ''SciAm'' or sometimes ''SA'', is an American popular science magazine. Many famous scientists, including Albert Einstein and Nikola Tesla, have contributed articles to it. In print since 1845, i ...
'', 14 June 14, 2011. {{Authority control * * Mental processes Thought