These days we hear the term ‘Cognition’ too often. It is ‘Cognition’ that was and still is responsible for ‘Survival of the Fittest’. We have witnessed an explosion of research in this area in the recent past. Brighter Minds training is also referred to as a brain training or cognitive training program. So, what is Cognition? and how is it related to the brain? In this blog, let us explore this in some detail.
Upon waking up each morning, we often start thinking about the chores we need to do that day. What should I prepare for breakfast today? Will I leave for work on time? How do I commute?
While these look like some random thoughts that fill our minds everyday in the mornings, they are the result of complex cognitive processes that occur in the brain, that jumpstart to action as soon as we wake up from our sleep state. They are influenced by the previous connections (wiring) of the brain and will inform today’s plans and actions.
Cognition forms a significant part of our consciousness and can be defined as a ‘mental process for acquiring knowledge or to understand about our surroundings through experiences, thoughts, and sensations.’ Simply put, it is a way to derive knowledge of our surroundings that eventually guides our behavior. For example, we use cognition for thinking, remembering, perceiving, judging, decision-making, and problem-solving. Cognition is derived from the Latin word ‘cognoscere’ meaning ‘to know.’ Thus, everything that is associated with knowledge is cognition.
Various disciplines like neurology, anthropology, philosophy, psychology, etc. have explored cognition extensively and they continue to do even now. However, it was in the late 1950s that Cognitive Psychology emerged through Piaget’s and Vygotsky’s theories on development and learning through cognition. Cognitive Psychology investigates how people think and what goes on in our minds during cognition: cognitive processes.
Let us know have a look at the different types of cognitive processes that are responsible for our cognition:
Thinking: precedes our actions and behaviours. Thoughts finally mould one’s personality
Attention: helps to focus or concentrate on what you are reading at the moment.
Memory: stores and retrieves information when needed
Learning: synthesize information and develop knowledge base
Language: helps to express oneself and understand others
Perception: enables us to get information through our sensations and feelings
So far, we have understood that cognition is not a single concept, but involves various processes, as mentioned above. Thus, when we consider making a to-do list, for example, our brain processes information through memory , attention and learning , decision-making, and higher reasoning or thought processes. Though it may seem like a tedious process, our brain actually comes to a conclusion within seconds!
We now know what cognition is and what its processes are. Now let us explore how it impacts us in our daily activities? It affects each and every part of our lives and influences our interactions with the world in the following ways:
It makes us perceive the world through sensations: see, hear, touch, taste, and smell. Our brain tells us to act according to our perceptions. For instance, if we taste something extremely bitter, it makes us throw the food out of our mouth as an involuntary action.
It helps us form impressions and make judgments about our environment. Which place is safe to go to? What is good to eat?
Enables us to hold on to our dearest memories and relive the moments
Helps us to take actions in our challenging situation through decision-making and problem-solving
Enables us to interact with the world through languages and reasoning abilities
The nature and strength of brain connections influence the cognitive processes which can further impact the quality of thought, action and the behaviour. For ex: if cognitive processes in the prefrontal cortex (front of the brain) connected to critical thinking, reasoning and problem solving are strong, we will be less vulnerable to emotional outbursts and impulsive behaviours.
And, these cognitive processes can be strengthened with training and conscious effort. Healthy lifestyles and practices related to foods, sleep, social activity and many other factors influence the cognitive capacity. ‘Cognitive Reserve’ is an idea that is gaining a lot of importance in recent years and we will explore more of that in future articles.
Author: Krishnamurthy J
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