Psychology Degree Guide: Cognitive Science
Though cognitive science sounds like an abstraction only applicable to academia, we all are familiar with some of its theories. Optical illusions are examples of theories in visual cognition. They evidence how the mind interprets images and the possibility for confusion when viewing complex objects. Cognitive science has applications in many familiar fields. Linguistic cognition deals with the way we read writing. Researchers study how people interpret language in context and have provided some interesting findings. Though in practice we use the structures of language to construct sentences, cognitive scientists have proven that our interpretation of written systems is not so cut and dry. Other research into cognitive science includes the changes in our ways of thinking over time. Early human development sees substantial change in mental capability and cognitive scientists are just beginning to understand the capabilities that are associated with learning to talk, for instance. In addition to our known thoughts, cognitive science also concerns unconscious methods of thinking, and what they mean for our perspective of the world. Through research we are beginning to understand that though we may not have access to our unconscious thoughts, they still have profound effects on the way we think.
As an on going effort to present the finest psychology resources, this guide to cognitive science is beneficial for psychology students and anyone interested in understanding the methods behind how we think.
As with most scientific fields, cognitive science has a host of laboratories and professional institutions to promote research. Most of these groups are involved with research in some way and many provide reports explaining their findings. Organizations can be a good way to get involved and find information in a complex field. They often publish journals to record and disseminate results and host events bringing researchers together to share knowledge. These links will take you to the sites of different research institutions that display ongoing projects and research papers to further your understanding.
- Cognitive Science Society – A group for cognitive scientists to share knowledge and advice about their profession. The Society created the “Cognitive Science” journal, a leading source of information in cognitive science.
- Allen Institute for Brain Science – This institution funds research projects on various aspects of brain science including cognition. Much of their research involves studies in many disciplines including computer science, robotics, neuroscience and information science.
- International Society for Group Theory in Cognitive Science – This group specializes in studying theories of cognitive science applied to groups of people. They promote research and disseminate information on findings in the field.
- Institute for Cognitive Science – A French research institution concerned with the way we interpret the world around us. Their site offers papers on cognitive science and links to many resources around the web.
Though researchers tend to specialize in a specific topic of cognitive science, general information is a great way to understand fundamental theories and concepts. The brain is a fascinating organ and researching the ways it works can be a rewarding venture. These sites will provide an overview of the different topics and methods used in the field of cognitive science.
- CogWeb: Cognitive Science – A large collection of research material on cognitive science, most available for free on the web. This is one page of CogWeb, a site for resources dealing with the relationship between cognition and culture.
- Cognitive Science Millennium Project – A list of the 100 most influential publications in cognitive science. Though the links do not direct to an online version of the document, the page lists the publication where they are located so you can find it easily.
- Cognitive Science Resources – A list of web pages dealing with topics under the umbrella of cognitive science. They are divided into categories so you can browse general information or find more specific studies.
Language is an innate trait unique to humans. It is an important part of culture and the key to sharing knowledge with others. Our forms of communication actually have a lot in common with our mental processes, and these similarities are especially important for a study in cognitive science. Research into language deals with both the human interpretation of spoken and written language as well as the acquisition of language in childhood and later in life. Findings in this field have proven that though language uses complex rules to define its structure, these rules are not always important to our understanding. For example, I can witre lkie tihs and you can sitll raed it. These eccentricities inform scientists as to the way our brain processes information, and may apply to the computer programming and languages. The resources below describe specific concepts and studies in the field of cognitive linguistics.
- Cognitive Linguistics – A scholarly journal exploring the frontiers of research in cognitive linguistics. Some of the issues are available for free online but most are on a subscription basis.
- Game with Words – The games on this site are actually research experiments into the relationships between language and the mind. The site hosts research projects from Harvard University’s psychology department.
The idea of machines behaving like people has captured the attention of culture for more than a century. To cognitive science, this fantasy is quickly becoming a reality. By mapping the thought processes of human beings, scientists hope to implement similar systems in robotics and other mechanized processes. Artificial intelligence is dependent on the ability to learn, so much of the research in this field involves developmental psychology and the ways young people analyze the world around them. Of course, once you have a machine that can learn you can apply the other elements of human cognition to build a lifelike representation of human thought structures. Artificial intelligence is also concerned with building computer models of mental processes to analyze how humans think. The increasing complexity of computers can now handle some of the more complex calculations of the brain and frequently find new applications. In this way studies into artificial intelligence work both to understand and replicate human models of thought. The links below provide more information on this exciting application of cognitive science.
- Relationship of AI to Psychology and Neuroscience – A list of resources to identify the intersections between cognitive science and artificial intelligence. The online materials are free and the site lists some print.
- AI, Cognitive Science & Robotics – A list of resources in exploring artificial intelligence and its contributions to our understandings of robotics. It has extensive links to many topics and institutions focused on cognitive science.
Attention and Visual Cognition
We all pay attention to certain specifics while ignoring others. This is simply a fact of human perception. Though we cannot interpret everything around us at every given moment, certain factors come into play to dictate what you do pay attention to. Research in attention and visual cognition helps to explain these stimuli that attract attention. In addition they may highlight factors which cause things to blend into the background. A popular experiment is one where a group of people conduct a movement-oriented action and a strange object is introduced into the scene. Most people will not notice the strange object since they are so focused on the movements of the original group. Optical illusions are another example of research into visual cognition. The elements of these pictures force us to notice some pieces and ignore others, underlining important notions of how we interpret images. The following links provide studies and papers on why we pay attention to certain things.
- Attention and Cognition Laboratory – A research institution at George Washington University dedicated to projects understanding the link between cognitive processes and attention. Their publications page offers many papers with PDFs available online.
- Visual Attention and Cognition Lab – A laboratory focused on research in visual processing and cognition at Northwestern University. They provide free publications on their site and links to demonstrations of their projects.
- Simons Lab – A research firm dedicated to examining how we extract information from the things we see. They host videos explaining previous studies and provide explanations of current projects.
- Visual Cognition Theories – Summarization and examples of the different theories on how we interpret visual stimuli. The images provide good examples but in some cases explanation is lacking.
Though we all use our brains, they have varying capacities and functions. Over the course of a lifetime the brain transforms to give us all of the mental capabilities we possess. From birth children learn about themselves, the external world and our constructs of language to prepare them to interact with the real world. Developmental cognition attempts to explain the exact processes which allow this change to come about. By studying humans as they progress mentally, scientists can define exactly how our brains develop and hopefully implement systems to aid this progression. The sites below help to describe the different stages of mental development and provide insight on our changing minds.
- Yale Cognition and Development Lab – A research firm conducting experiments into the cognitive transformations during early human development. Their publications page provides free research materials from the institution.
- Journal of Cognition and Development – A forum for research into the connections between growth and mental ability published by the Cognitive Development Society. It is available online for a subscription fee and provides research on many topics in developmental psychology.
- Resources for Applied Developmental Psychology – An extensive list of research, journals, funding and job listings for developmental psychology. The resources are updated often and categorized to facilitate searching.
- Center for Psychology Resources: Developmental – A page with extensive links to many websites dealing with topics of developmental psychology and cognition. The site divides development into different stages of the human life cycle to provide a comprehensive view of changes in cognition as we age.
The unconscious is an elusive but important part of our mental framework. Though we are necessarily unaware of our unconscious thoughts, they do have interesting and often bizarre effects on our perspectives. The unconscious is an important field of study for cognitive science since it illuminates our known mental processes. Though we cannot access the unconscious directly, cognitive scientists have developed methods to extract unconscious thoughts from observed reactions. In doing so they have evidenced the importance of subliminal and unconscious messages for our thought processes. The links below describe some of the ways unconscious thought is important to cognitive science.
- The Psychoanalytic and the Cognitive Unconscious – This paper outlines the different meanings of the unconscious for psychoanalysis and studies in cognitive science. This is great as an introductory text since it explains exactly what cognitive scientists mean by the unconscious.
- The Cognitive Unconscious – A paper describing the unconscious cognitive processes observable in human thinking. It provides summaries of current knowledge of unconscious thoughts and does highlights what the unconscious tells us about the world.
- Unconscious Processing: Subliminal Perception, Neuropsychology and the I-Function – This paper explores what different neurological conditions tell us about unconscious cognition. The links provided at the bottom are invaluable for a study of the unconscious.