What is Cognitive Science?

Historical Breakthroughs
Major Disciplines Within Cognitive Science
Current Research Trends
Careers in Cognitive Science
Other Resources


Cognitive science is the interdisciplinary study of mind and the nature of intelligence. Cognitive scientists come from a wide range of backgrounds including anthropology, biology, computer science, education, philosophy, psychology, mathematics, neuroscience, and others. Scholars in this field share common goals of better understanding cognition.

Furthermore, cognitive science explores the nature of the mind and intelligence systems. At the core of cognitive science is the pursuit of formal theories of mind and information. The field is inherently interdisciplinary, and individuals who work in this field combine information and expertise from a variety of disciplines like those mentioned above. Both natural intelligence in humans and artificial intelligence in computers are central themes explored by students and scholars in the field. Cognitive science involves aspects of complex cognition, computational models of thought processes, knowledge representation, and the emergent behavior of large-scale interacting systems. At the most basic level, Cognitive science seeks a better understanding of the mind, the process and tools of teaching and learning, of mental abilities, and of the development of intelligent devices that can augment human capabilities in constructive ways.

-Courtesy of the I.U. Cognitive Science Program

Back to Top

Historical Breakthroughs

Attempts to understand the mind and its operation go back at least to the Ancient Greeks, when philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle tried to explain the nature of human knowledge. The study of mind remained the province of philosophy until the nineteenth century, when experimental psychology developed. Wilhelm Wundt and his students initiated laboratory methods for studying mental operations more systematically.

Within a few decades, however, experimental psychology became dominated by behaviorism, a view that virtually denied the existence of mind. According to behaviorists such as J. B. Watson, psychology should restrict itself to examining the relation between observable stimuli and observable behavioral responses. Talk of consciousness and mental representations was banished from respectable scientific discussion. Especially in North America, behaviorism largely dominated the psychological scene through the 1950s.

Around 1956, the intellectual landscape began to change dramatically. George Miller summarized numerous studies which showed that the capacity of human thinking is limited, with short-term memory, for example, limited to around seven items. He proposed that memory limitations can be overcome by recoding information into chunks, mental representations that require mental procedures for encoding and decoding the information.

At this time, primitive computers had been around for only a few years, but pioneers such as John McCarthy, Marvin Minsky, Allen Newell, and Herbert Simon were founding the field of artificial intelligence. In addition, Noam Chomsky rejected behaviorist assumptions about language as a learned habit and proposed instead to explain language comprehension in terms of mental grammars consisting of rules. The six thinkers mentioned in this paragraph can be viewed as the founders of cognitive science.

Excerpt from:
Thagard, Paul, "Cognitive Science" - The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Back to Top

Major Disciplines Within Cognitive Science

The true interdisciplinary nature of cognitive science provides for a unique blend of expertise from numerous academic disciplines. Although the list of related disciplines is constantly changing, the traditional disciplines of cognitive science include anthropology, computer science, linguistics, neuroscience, philosophy, and psychology. With the advent of new interest and research in cognitive science, several other disciplines are a part of the field including artificial intelligence, biology, communications, education, engineering, history and philosophy of science, informatics, mathematics, music, sociology, speech and hearing sciences and others.

Back to Top

Current Research Trends

A complete listing of the countless amount of work being done by cognitive scientists worldwide would be an immense task and this fact alludes to the true beauty of cognitive science. The vast array of research in cognitive science is all centered around understanding the workings of the mind and the nature of intelligence. The following is a broad sample of recent research themes in cognitive science at universities and research institutes:

Artificial Intelligence

Functional brain Imaging

Philosophy of Mind


Neural Network

Neural basis of Cognition
Cognitive Neuroscience


Decision Making

Visual Perception

Human-Computer Interaction

Computational Modeling

Learning and Memory


Object Recognition

Speech & Communication

Perception and Action

Back to Top

Careers in Cognitive Science

Training in cognitive science prepares students admirably well for careers in academia and research as well as numerous other major fields of the twenty-first century, including: computer programming, telecommunications, information processing, medical analysis, data retrieval, human-computer interaction, and education.

Careers Specific to a Bachelor's Degree
The skills acquired by cognitive science students are applicable in many career fields, including:


Computer-Human Interaction


Multimedia Design

Artificial Intelligence
Data Representation/Retreival

Human performance Testing


Technical Writing

Medical Analysis
Scientific Research Assistance

Human Factors Engineering

intelligence Analyst

Neurological testing


Careers that Normally Require a Graduate Degree

Career options in any of the previously mentioned fields will usually be enhanced with an advanced degree. Because cognitive science related jobs often require significant amounts of technical training and knowledge, many individuals seeking these positions will have a graduate degree. Thus, a master or doctoral degree will certainly make a person more competitive in this job market. Many management and industrial research positions and all college level academic research and teaching positions will require a graduate degree.

Career Outlook

Due to the sharp rise in technology oriented industries, the number of career positions available in cognitive science has grown enormously, and this trend will likely continue. Career growth potential is also excellent in terms of salary as well as advancement in many diversified fields and geographical locations. The interdisciplinary nature of cognitive science also means that graduates with training in this field are often well-prepared to pursue career paths in several different disciplines.

-Courtesy of the I.U. Cognitive Science Program

Back to Top

Other Resources

Article on Cognitive Science by Paul Thagard
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Celebrities in Cognitive Science
Maintained by Martin Ryder, University of Colorado at Denver

Article on Cognitive Science
Wikipedia--The Free Encyclopedia

Back to Top

Questions? Comments?
Contact the Webmaster

Copyright 2012, The Trustees of Indiana University
Copyright Complaints

iCogSci Staff

Executive Editor
Ronak Shah

Student Reviewers
Kevin Carlson
Anna Handy
Robert Hawkins
Lindsey Kitchell
Casey McGlasson
Alex Nay
Sean Phillips
James Torre

Breden Sewell

Web Designer
Michelle Capriles-Escobedo

Advisory Staff
Dr. Ruth Eberle
Dr. Rob Goldstone
Dr. Colin Allen

Sponsored by the
Indiana University Cognitive Science Program

Contact Information:

Cognitive Science Program
819 Eigenmann Hall
1910 E. 10th St.
Indiana University
Bloomington, Indiana 47406
E-mail: icogsci@indiana.edu