yes, therapy helps!
What is cognitive science? Your basic ideas and development phases

What is cognitive science? Your basic ideas and development phases

June 12, 2024

Cognitive Science is a set of studies about the mind and its processes. Formally it originated since the 1950s, along with the development of computer operating systems. Currently, it represents one of the areas that has impacted most strongly the analysis of different scientific disciplines.

We will see below what is Cognitive Science and, from a journey through the history of its development, we will explain what approaches it comprises.

  • Related article: "Cognitive psychology: definition, theories and main authors"

What is cognitive science?

Cognitive Science is a multidisciplinary perspective on the human mind , which can be applied to other information processing systems, as long as they maintain similarities regarding the laws that govern processing.


Beyond being a body of knowledge with particular characteristics and distinguishable with other bodies of knowledge; Cognitive Science is a set of sciences or disciplines of a scientific nature. It includes, for example, the philosophy of the mind, linguistics, neuroscience, cognitive psychology and studies in artificial intelligence, as well as some branches of anthropology.

In fact, Fierro (2011) tells us that it is probably more appropriate to call this science a "cognitive paradigm"; since it is a focus on the mental, constituted by basic principles, problems and solutions that has impacted the scientific activity of different areas .


  • You may be interested: "The philosophical zombies: a mental experiment about consciousness"

4 phases and perspectives of Cognitive Science

Valera (quoted by Fierro, 2011) talks about four main stages in the consolidation of cognitive science : cybernetics, classic cognitivism, connectionism, and corporatization-enaction. Each of them corresponds to a stage in the development of Cognitive Science, however, none of these has disappeared or been replaced by the following. These are theoretical approaches that coexist and are constantly problematized. We will see, following the same author, what each one is about.

1. Cybernetics

Cybernetics develops from 1940 to 1955 and is recognized as the stage in which the main theoretical tools of Cognitive Science appeared. It coincides with the appearance of the first computers and computer operating systems, which in turn laid the foundations for studies in artificial intelligence. Both, different theories are developed on information processing, reasoning and communication .


These operating systems were the first self-organized systems, that is, they worked based on a series of previously programmed rules. Among other things, these systems and their functioning generated central questions for Cognitive Science. For example, do machines have the ability to think and develop autonomy like human beings?

The impact specifically on psychology was decisive, since the early twentieth century had seen marked by the predominance of psychoanalysis and behaviorism . The first one does not focus so much on understanding "the mind", but "the psyche"; and the second focuses strictly on behavior, so that studies on the mental were relegated if not directly discarded.

For the Cognitive Science of the moment, the interest was neither the psychic structuring nor the observable behavior. In fact, it was not focused on the structure and anatomical functioning of the brain (which will later be recognized as the place where mental processes are generated).

He was interested, rather, in find systems equivalent to mental activity that would explain and even reproduce it . The latter is concretized with the analogy of computational processing, where it is understood that the human mind works through a series of inputs (incoming messages or stimuli), and outpus (the messages or stimuli generated).

2. Classical cognitivism

This model is generated by the contributions of different experts, both in computer science and psychology, artificial intelligence, linguistics and even economics. Among other things, this period, which corresponds to the mid-60's, ends up consolidating the previous ideas: all kinds of intelligence it works in a very similar way to computer operating systems .

Thus, the mind was an encoder / decoder of fragments of information, which gave rise to "symbols", "mental representations" and sequentially organized processes (one first and the other later).For this reason, this model is also known as a symbolist, representationalist or sequential processing model.

Beyond studying the materials on which this is based (the hardware, which would be the brain), it is about finding the algorithm that generates them (the software, which would be the mind). From this follows the following: there is an individual who, automatically following different rules, processes, represents and explains internally the information (for example using different symbols). And there is an environment that, by functioning independently of this, can be faithfully represented by the human mind.

However, this last question began to be questioned, precisely because of the way in which the rules that would make us process information were considered. The proposal was that these rules led us to manipulate in a specific way a set of symbols . Through this manipulation, we generate and present a message to the environment.

But, one issue that this model of Cognitive Science overlooked, was that these symbols mean something; with which, its mere order works to explain the syntactic activity, but not the semantic activity. By the same token, one could hardly speak of an artificial intelligence endowed with the capacity to generate senses. In any case, its activity would be limited to logically ordering a set of symbols using a preprogrammed algorithm.

In addition, if cognitive processes were a sequential system (first one thing occurs and then the other), there were doubts about how we perform those tasks that required the simultaneous activity of different cognitive processes. All this will lead to the next stages of Cognitive Science.

3. Connectionism

This approach is also known as "distributed parallel processing" or "neural network processing". Among other things (such as those mentioned in the previous section), this model of the 70's arises after the classical theory could not justify the viability of the functioning of the cognitive system in biological terms .

Without abandoning the computational architecture model of previous periods, what this tradition suggests is that the mind does not actually work through symbols organized sequentially; it acts by establishing different connections between the components of a complex network.

In this way, it approaches models of neuronal explanation of human activity and information processing: the mind works by massive interconnections distributed throughout a network . And it is the connectivity of said real that generates the rapid activation, or the deactivation, of the cognitive processes.

Beyond finding syntactic rules that happen one from the other, here the processes act in parallel and are distributed quickly to solve a task. Among the classic examples of this approach is the mechanism of pattern recognition, such as faces.

The difference of this with neuroscience is that the latter tries to discover models of mathematical and computational development of the processes carried out by the brain, both human and animal, while the connectionism focuses more on studying the consequences of these models at the level of information processing and processes cognitive

4. Corporalization-enaction

Before the focuses strongly focused on the internal rationality of the individual, this last approach recovers the role of the body in the development of the ental processes. It arises in the first half of the 20th century, with the works of Merleau-Ponty in the phenomenology of perception, where it explained how the body has direct effects on mental activity .

However, in the specific field of cognitive sciences, this paradigm was introduced until the second half of the twentieth century, when some theories proposed that it was possible to modify the mental activity of machines through manipulating the body of them (no longer a through a constant inflow of information). In the latter It was suggested that intelligent behaviors took place when the machine interacted with the environment , and not precisely because of its symbols and internal representations.

From here, cognitive science began to study body movements and their role in cognitive development and in the construction of the notion of agency, as well as in the acquisition of notions related to time and space. In fact, the psychology of children and development began to be taken up again, which had shown how the first mental schemes, originated in childhood, take place after the body interacts with the environment in certain ways.

It is through the body that it is explained that we can generate concepts related to weight (heavy, light), volume or depth, spatial location (up, down, inside, outside), and so on. This is finally articulated with the theories of enaction, which propose that cognition is the result of an interaction between the embodied mind and the environment , which is possible only through motor action.

Finally, they join this last stream of cognitive science the hypotheses of the extended mind , which suggest that mental processes are not only in the individual, much less in the brain, but in the environment itself.

  • Maybe you're interested: "The Extended Mind Theory: psyche beyond our brain"

Bibliographic references:

  • Fierro, M. (2012). The conceptual development of cognitive science. Part II Colombian Journal of Psychiatry, 41 (1): pp. 185-196.
  • Fierro, M. (2011). The conceptual development of cognitive science. Part I. Colombian Journal of Psychiatry, 40 (3): pp. 519-533.
  • Thagard, P. (2018). Cognitive Science. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved October 4, 2018. Available at //plato.stanford.edu/entries/cognitive-science/#His.

Cognition: How Your Mind Can Amaze and Betray You - Crash Course Psychology #15 (June 2024).


Similar Articles