Cognition is the process of thinking. This is a primary function of the human brain alongside basic biological functions such as motor control, sensory processing and regulation. The following are illustrative examples of cognition.
Perception is cognition related to sensory processing including the interpretation of the senses. This includes the basic senses of vision, sound, touch, taste and smell. Humans can also perceive other things such as a sense of self, time and sensations.
The process of matching things to memory. This can include recognition of entities in sensory information and recognition of concepts, patterns and other intangible things.
Self-awareness and self-reflection whereby an individual can examine their own thoughts, emotions, memories and personality. For example, a person who can identify their own failures of rational thought such as biases or motivated reasoning.
The brain appears to be adapted to social processes such as recognizing emotion in faces, voices and body language.
Abstract thought is the ability to think in high level concepts that don't directly correspond to physical reality. For example, the ability to understand and use a concept such as "freedom."
The capacity to think about multiple things at the same time and switch between tasks without losing track of context. For example, a pilot who is able to land an aircraft while communicating to a copilot and thinking about their weekend.
The ability to understand visual information including visual abstractions such as symbols and diagrams. This can include the ability to think and solve problems with pictures.
The process of seeing visual images with the mind including approximations from memory and imaginary scenes.
A sense of purpose and motivation that drives people towards behavior and goals.
States of mind that color all cognition for a period of time. For example, fear that causes a high state of alertness.
Imagination is the ability to think about things that differ from reality.
The ability to remember and recall certain information over the long term.
Short term memory that is used for current thinking processes. For example, remembering the context and content of an article as you read through it.
An instinct is a complex behavior that is innate such that it is a shared cognitive tendency of humans. For example, the theory that humans have a herd instinct that is the foundation for a wide range of complex behaviors such as fear of missing out.
Executive function is a term for thought processes that control behavior. This includes high level functions such as reasoning and inhibitory control. It also includes low level functions that can be controlled by an individual such as working memory. For example, using working memory to plan a path to get to a destination on a bicycle.
The ability to concentrate on something. For example, following a single line of reasoning for an extended period of time to solve a problem.
Inhibitory control is the ability to suppress instinctual, habitual, emotional or motivated reactions. This can be done to select a reasoned response over an impulsive response to a situation. For example, the ability to resist doing something socially unacceptable due to surging emotions such as anger.
Strategically ignoring information. This can include the ability to suppress perceptions, thoughts and memories that aren't useful to a task. For example, temporarily discarding your own opinions to consider the perspective of another person.
The capacity to suppress and forget unproductive memory. For example, it is useful to remember where you parked your bicycle but not to remember every location you have ever parked a bicycle in your life.
The brain performs a large number of functions autonomously without the direction of conscious thought. For example, if you think about a problem consciously and then go on to something else, unconscious thought processes appear to be able to continue working on the problem. This theory is used to explain why a solution to a problem suddenly comes after taking a break.
Intuition is the ability to perceive knowledge that doesn't originate with the conscious mind. This may be a process of unconscious thought. However, as with most theories of cognition, intuition isn't well understood.
Salience is an unconscious thought process that causes you to notice things that might be important in a fast moving stream of sensory information. For example, noticing a bug that is running across your floor due to its movement.
The theory that the body plays a significant role in cognition such that thinking isn't confined to the brain. For example, the gastrointestinal tract, or gut, has around 100 million nerve cells known as the enteric nervous system that appears to function as a "second brain." This is very small compared to the eighty six billion neurons of the brain. There are a large number of interactions between the stomach and brain known as brain-gut connection. People can consciously feel the role that the stomach plays in cognition as indicated by expressions such as "gut feeling."
The brain is divided into two hemispheres – left and right that appear to have specialized functions. This is far more complex and flexible than is presented by pseudo-science such as popular psychology. For example, language processing appears to be handled by the left side in most people but is handled by the right or both sides in some people.
Cognition is not well understood. Complicating matters it is studied from many different points of view. Theories of cognition originate from fields such as medicine, biology, neuroscience, logic, philosophy, linguistics, social science, psychiatry, psychology, education, anthropology and computer science.