introduction to psychology  COGNITION AND THINKING

Cognition is the

  • The process of knowing, as well as what is known.
  • Cognition refers to the higher mental processes.
  • It is through these mental processes that humans understand the world, process information, make judgments and decisions, and communicate knowledge to others.
  • Memory, intelligence, and language are important aspects of cognition.

The term cognition is used in several different loosely related ways. In psychology it is used to refer to the mental processes of an individual, with particular relation to a view that argues that the mind has internal mental states (such as beliefs, desires and intentions) and can be understood in terms of information processing, especially when a lot of abstraction or concretization is involved, or processes such as involving knowledge, expertise or learning for example are at work. It 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 culminate in both thought and action.

Cognitive Psychology

The branch of psychology that studies cognition, and related areas and issues.

Cognition is commonly known as Thinking

What Is Thinking???

  • The information that our mental faculties receive or generate is in the form of mental representations.
  • These mental representations may be in various forms e.g. in terms of words, visual images, or may be sounds.
  • Woodworth said that thinking is mental exploration and according to Ruch, thinking is a behavior in which at least some of the subjects that are dealt with are not physically present to sense but are represented by symbols, or in other words, thinking is actually a series of symbolic activities which represent previous learning experiences and an individual’s thought processes.
  • Most of the time, human beings are thinking. Even when they stop thinking or reading or writing, ones thought wonders on something else and this can be past, present or future or pleasant or un pleasant, or it may be even day- dreaming; they all are the part of thinking phenomena.


Thinking is the process whereby these mental representations are manipulated. The process of thinking transforms these representations into a new and different form. The transformation may be made:

  • For finding answers to questions
  • For finding solutions to problems
  • For finding facts and exploring reality

Try to see what different types of mental images we experience!!!!!

Close your eyes for a moment and try to:

  • See the face of your mother?
  • Hear the voice of your favorite singer?
  • Feel how your favorite food tastes?
  • Feel how your favorite perfume smells?
  • Imagine how the prick of an injection feels?

Probably You Will Be Able To Do All of These Things

The stimulus is not there but we can feel it… mentally

How do all these mental processes take place???

  • Thinking is a subtle, and continuous process.
  • Our brain is the most intricate, complex, sophisticated, and yet ‘quite’ machine in the universe.

Fundamental Elements of Thinking

  • Mental Images
  • Concepts

1. Mental Images

  • Mental images are an integral part of the thinking process; in fact a major part of our thinking consists of these images.
  • These are mental representations of the objects and events that we are, or we have been, in contact with.
  • These images are not necessarily visual in nature; images can be related to all sorts of sensory experiences.
  • Psychologists have developed exercises for enhancing people’s ability to work on their mental images, in order to sharpen their thinking capacity and thinking skills e.g. problem solving skills, brain teasing, creative thinking exercises.
  • There is no dearth of research available suggesting that mental images, when used as mental rehearsals can be very helpful in improving other skills, besides thinking, as well e.g. jogging, athletics, dancing, and public speaking.

Images are also used as important tools in Interventions designed for handling psychological problems e.g. Relaxation exercises, or meditation.

2. Concepts

  • Objects, events, or people sharing common characteristics and properties are categorized and classified as one.
  • This categorization is known as “concepts’.
  • Different categories are different concepts e.g. the concept of different objects, people, or events.

If someone asks you, “Who are your class fellows?” How will you respond?

You might say:

  • “One short girl, one medium height boy, a tall girl and a tall boy, one girl with long hair, and one boy who is bald”.


  • “Three boys and three girls”

This is a type of categorization based upon the concept of gender.

The same applies to other objects and event e.g. furniture, fruit, clothes etc.

Use of “Concepts” In Thinking World

  • Concepts are the categorization of objects, events, or people that share common properties
  • When someone asks you, what is the main thing required for your room? One may start talking in terms of items like, bed, chairs, curtain, carpets etc, or ‘furniture and fixtures’ as a single category.
  • These small categories reflect the operation of concepts and the process of cognition
  • Concepts make possible the establishment of cognitive categories, and enable us to organize complex phenomena into a simpler and conveniently manageable form. Imagine how many things we are in contact with in the world around us. Do we, or can we name all of them all the time??????
  • Newly encountered objects easily fit into our cognitive structure, if the conceptual category is already there. Therefore,
  • If you know what a doctor does, then you can recognize any type of doctor, in any part of the world, in any type of attire, in any type of treatment setting.
  • Imagine if we did not have concepts of fruit, vegetables, grains, furniture, or weather!!!!
  • Concepts help to define, explain and elaborate complex phenomena into simple, understandable and usable categories, and they also include data from past experiences.
  • There are three main types of concepts; a) Artificial concepts b) Natural concepts c) Prototype concepts

a) Artificial Concepts

  • Concepts that have a unique set of traits and features.
  • These concepts are easy to define and elaborate. e.g. a rectangle has two opposite sides equal, if it is not the case, then it is not a rectangle.
  • But our every day concepts are much more difficult than these concepts. e.g. what is the definition of an animal?

b) Natural Concepts Known, familiar and relatively simple concepts that have rather loose features to define and explain them.

  • These concepts are not universal in nature___ such as rectangle has two opposite sides equal, if it is not, and then it is not a rectangle. This is not the case in natural concepts.
  • People e.g. defining an animal can vary •They in their definition and explanation?Simple and complex concepts
  • Some concepts are simple in the sense that they are clearly defined.
  • When a concept is clearly defined, it is easy to distinguish an example from a non-example e.g the concept of a square, or an equilateral triangle.
  • But some concepts are rather difficult to define. These are defined in a variety of ways, and marked by a set of complex features.
  • These may be ambiguous, overlapping, and even abstract e.g. a bird, or a chair.
  • Most of the things that we are in contact with in our everyday life are not as easy to define as a square or a triangle e.g. defining ‘obsessive- compulsive disorder’.
  • These may also involve the subjective experience of the person.

And what about the concept of a comfortable chair or an easy or a difficult task??????In such situations we need specific, and rather exact examples of a concept i.e., prototypes.

c) Prototypes

  • Examples of a concept that is typical and highly representative of a concept.
  • Prototypes are used to define and explain objects and ideas that cannot be defined in a clear-cut and straightforward manner.
  • E.g. the prototype of a table can be the ‘dining table’, or the prototype of a bird can be a ‘crow’.

Agreement on prototypes

  • Usually people in a society, or those belonging to a particular discipline, are unanimous about the prototypes of a concept e.g. if we have to give a prototype of a vehicle, then we will talk about a ‘car’ and not and escalator’ or ‘elevator’, although these also move and take us from one place to another.
  • On the other hand, if we are talking about varieties of ‘stairs’, then we can probably take escalators as an example.
  • What will happen if psychologists do not have a common definition of mental illness?
  • How do concepts help in thinking?
  • We live in a complex world of objects, ideas, and relationships. It is with the help of concepts that we understand this world.
  • Concepts make it possible to communicate ideas, thoughts, and feelings even when the object of interest is not actually present.

Thinking and Reasoning

  • Only humans can think in ways, which no other organism is able to, as they have the ability to contemplate, analyze, recollect, and plan out, and carryout those behaviors.
  • Humans are the only ones who are capable of using foresight as well as hindsight
  • Even when we are not thinking, our mind wanders on present, past, future, pleasant or un pleasant, favorite or not so favorite things.

And even we are dreaming or day- dreaming; actually it is also a form of thinking.


  • It is the ability to use reason, logic, past experience, and learnt information for mental processing.
  • For decision-making, and problem solving etc.

Deductive Reasoning

  • Deductive reasoning is the process whereby logical conclusions, inferences, and implications are drawn by using a set of assumptions. These inferences are then generalized over, or applied to, specific cases.
  • The assumptions or premises that are used for drawing conclusions are thought to be true and base upon reality. In many cases they are considered to be unchallengeable.

But at times these premises may turn out to be false when tested in reality e.g. all men are brave, or men do not cry.

  • Evaluating syllogisms is a techniques used for studying deductive thinking.
  • A syllogism contains a series of two assumptions or premises that are used for drawing conclusions e.g.
  • All women are talkative.
  • Anna is a woman.
  • Therefore, Anna is talkative.
  • This type of deductive thinking is largely influenced by cultural backgrounds of people.
  • It has been seen that people from more developed societies use rather.
  • Abstract and logical thinking, which they acquired through their experience, and learning.
  • People from less developed cultures mostly rely on concrete modes of reasoning.

This sort of difference is largely due to the type of high quality, sophisticated education, variety of learning experiences, and the pressure to think logically and independent.

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