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What Are Cognitive Processes?

By Erik J.J. Goserud
Updated May 21, 2024
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The cognitive processes, commonly referred to as cognition, are the many processes working together in the formation of thought. Cognition helps us to acquire information and make conscious and subconscious conclusions about the world around us. Our five conventional senses are utilized in this complex process as a means of gathering information.

The specific definition of cognition is somewhat of a vague one, with a significant amount of interdisciplinary debate about its exact meaning. The Latin root of cognition is cognoscene, which translates into "to conceptualize," "to recognize," and "to know." The cognitive processes may be defined as encompassing all information processing even at the subconscious level or as strictly the ability to think and reason, which is a conscious event exclusive to human beings. Many anthropologists and other scholars in varying disciplines consider the ability to consciously process information as the defining human characteristic.

In order to understand the complexity of cognitive processes, it is necessary to have a broad perception of how humans generally view the world. There is a plethora of information around us at all moments, allowing decisions to be made about the environment. These decisions may be trivial, such as what color shirt to wear, or life saving, such as what to do in an emergency situation. The process of taking the information available in through our senses and translating it into conclusions or actions is made possible by cognition.

Some specific processes involved in cognition may be memory, association, language, and attention. Other related cognitive processes are concept formation, pattern recognition, imagery, and problem solving. It is important to realize that these processes are overlapping in nature and often work together in complex ways to formulate any conclusions about the external and internal world.

Although these cognitive processes are universal, there are person-specific differences that are not completely understood. These differences are the driving force between decision making and perspective. There are numerous schools of thought regarding the origin of cognitive differences. Some argue that there is a genetic predisposition that dictates personality differences, and others believe these traits are more experience driven, while the majority are consistent with the notion that a combination of nature and nurture make us who we are.

If two identical twins were raised in the same household, it is likely that they may be similar in many ways yet still different in personality. They are genetically identical yet still have different cognitive processes that shape the way they make sense of the world. This is an example of how their experiences, or nurture, have caused them to differ. Contrarily, if these two twins were separated at birth and grew up in different environments, they may still exhibit certain similarities in personality, giving evidence in favor of a genetic predisposition in personality.

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