Cognition is the process associated with the production and integration of thoughts and imagery in the mind. Historically, many different disciplines, including artificial intelligence, education, information processing, and psychology have studied cognitive processes, in one form or another. Investigation into cognition experienced rapid growth in the latter half of the 20th Century, giving rise to a new disciplinary conglomeration known as the cognitive sciences

Each of these disciplines and lines of investigation reveal different aspects of cognition, and contextualize them among sets of similarly diverse concepts. We briefly summarize a few of these concepts in this section, to provide you with an overview of the aspects of cognition believed to be involved in the expression of thought in natural language. It is by no means an exhaustive review, and we therefore encourage you to pursue further reading in those areas relevant to your specific discipline and topic.


Generally, when perusing the contemporary social science literature on the the concept commonly known as thought, we come to understand it as those primarily verbal ideas that comprise our mind’s conscious experience. However, to many researchers, thoughts are more than the words we hear internally. As may be apparently from the previous discussion on Pandemonium in the mind, many thoughts are present in a moment subliminally. While the contents of such preconscious thoughts may be brought to conscious awareness with varying degrees of effort, much research indicates that such thoughts may already inform our conscious experience without our full awareness.

Not only do our thoughts vary in terms of our conscious awareness of them at any given moment, but, moreover, our thoughts may vary in terms of their completeness (often being fragmentary and transient), as well as their form. Some thoughts are verbal in nature, while others are primarily associated with non-auditory sensory modalities, such as mental imagery. Likewise, some thoughts are concerned with explicit factual knowledge or judgments, while others deal with actions, behaviors, and procedures.


Research on the phenomenon currently known as memory is, in many instances, intertwined with research on the structure and function of cognition. Indeed, and to the chagrin of not too few of its researchers, the study of memory processes is often subsumed under the field of cognition. Their intertwined concepts and research base may be expected, given the fluidly interactive relationship between thought and memory during the experience of our lives’ moments. However interrelated their experience and function may be, those who investigate the processes of memory add to the contemporary scientific literature on cognition and related processes in distinct and noteworthy ways.

When one contends with the scientific literature on memory, one finds the term invoked both to describe the apparatuses involved in the storage and retrieval of information, as well as content-based processes. In this way, concepts such as working memory, short-term memory, and long term memory describe various apparatuses and stages involved in the encoding of information, as well as its analysis or evaluation with respect to retrieved and previously encoded information. Declarative memory and procedural memory, however, describe processes differentiated based on whether the content of the concepts or percepts involved are verbal or behavioral, respectively. Episodic memories are of concern when the content of the information involved pertains to one’s life experiences, while semantic memory describes meaning-based encoding and association between conceptual and perceptual phenomena. Finally, memories can be explicitly experienced consciously, or they can work implicitly, and produce effects without one becoming consciously aware of their workings and products.

Research on the processes involved in memory reveal that its function depend, in part, on such cognitive features as intelligence, pre-existing fund of knowledge (or experience) to draw from, stereotypes (i.e., implicit associations), and learned cognitive associations (both pre-existing and those learned subsequent to the memory). Substantial research indicates that our memories are malleable, in that they are open to suggestion and change over time based on circumstances in which they are accessed. Research further indicates that our memories are context dependent, as revealed by predictably cue-dependent retrieval and forgetting, as well as state-dependent recall. Aspects of stimulus presentation, such as primacy, recency, serial position, chunking are known to affect later accuracy during recall. Finally, research indicates that effortfully encoded and emotionally salient or intense memories are most retrievable, as are those maintained and elaborated on frequently, those practiced frequently, and those amenable to specialized mnemonics (such as further chunking and lyrical expression)

Memory’s apparent function is to retrieve information learned from previous experience, in order to make decisions, form conclusions, and take action based on the current moment’s perceived qualities, the state of mind that we are in when we experience it, and our intentions in it. Information from several memory systems may then be utilized in the experience of a given moment (e.g., declarative, semantic, episodic, and procedural). Because of this, the factors affecting each of these memory systems may have more or less impact on the form and frequency of verbal expression of thought in response to a given moment, depending on the circumstances of that particular moment, and the particular characteristics of the person or people experiencing it. As a result, memory is often an important source of projective influence.