The internal structures and processes that are involved in the acquisition and use of knowledge, including sensation, perception, attention, learning, memory, language, thinking, and reasoning. Cognitive scientists propose and test theories about the functional components of cognition based on observations of an organism's external behavior in specific situations.
Cognition throughout life can be broadly described as an interaction between knowledge-driven processes and sensory processes; and between controlled processes and automatic processes. Over time, there is a trade-off between the amount of surface information that is retained in the internal representation of objects or events (bottom-up processing) and the amount of meaning that is incorporated (top-down processing). Following exposure to a stimulus, a sensory representation (sometimes called an image, icon, or echo) is constructed that encodes nearly all the surface characteristics of the stimulus (for example, color, shape, location, pitch, and loudness). The information is short lived, lasting less than a second. Much evidence suggests that extraction of information from this representation takes place in two stages, a feature analysis stage and an object recognition stage. It is during the latter stage that attention (controlled processing) and previous knowledge come into play. See also Memory; Perception.
Conceptual knowledge is needed to classify objects and events in the world. Some aspects of conceptual knowledge are innate or emerge very early in development, while others are acquired through learning and inference.
A primary cognitive function of all social species is communication, which can be accomplished by a combination of vocal, gestural, and even hormonal signals. Of all species on Earth, only humans have developed a communication system based on abstract signs. This evolutionary development is closely tied to the greater reasoning capacity of humans as well. All reasoning... [continues]
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