What is Cognition?

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Common Cognitive Treatments and Therapy

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:09 Cognition
  • 1:21 Inductive and…
  • 3:25 Heuristics
  • 5:36 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

People think in different ways, and thoughts are an important part of who you are. In this lesson, we'll look at cognition, including two common types of cognition: reasoning and heuristics.


Imagine that you are in a quiet room, all alone. You are sitting in a comfortable position. You close your eyes and take a deep breath. There is nothing to distract you, nothing to grab your attention. There's just one thing: No matter how clear your surroundings, you most likely still have thoughts in your head. Maybe those thoughts are focused on your breath and nothing more, or maybe they are racing through your head at a mile a minute about all sorts of things on your to-do list.

No matter where you are or what happens to you, your thoughts are with you always. They are as much a part of you as your hand or your leg, maybe even more so. After all, if there's a terrible accident and you lose your leg, you'll still be you. But without your thoughts, would you be the same person?

In the field of psychology, thoughts and thought processes are called cognition. Psychologists study cognition to better understand what people think, how they think and how that influences their feelings and behaviors. Let's look closer at two common types of cognition: reasoning and heuristics.

Inductive and Deductive Reasoning

Let's say that you have a furry little animal, and you want to know what type it is. It has brown and red fur, green eyes, long whiskers and a tail. How do you know what type of animal it is? You read in a book that cats have fur, green eyes, long whiskers and a tail. Since your animal has all of those things, you conclude that you have a cat. Congratulations! You've just used reasoning skills to solve a problem.

There are two main types of reasoning skills: inductive and deductive reasoning. Inductive reasoning is when you draw conclusions about a general group based on observations of a specific member or members of that group. Remember your cat? Let's say that she likes to drink milk and chase yarn. You notice that your friend's cat also likes to drink milk and chase yarn. Because these specific cats like milk and yarn, you conclude that all cats like to drink milk and chase yarn. You've used inductive reasoning to come to this conclusion.

On the other hand, deductive reasoning is when you start with a universal truth and draw conclusions about specific circumstances based on that. For example, you know that cats are mammals. You also know that mammals have hearts. So, you conclude that your cat (and all other cats) has a heart. Of course, both inductive and deductive reasoning have problems. Just because you use reasoning to draw a conclusion doesn't mean that the conclusion is correct. If your premise isn't right to begin with, it might be incorrect.

Let's look at another example. Say that you read that all cats like to eat fish. Your pet doesn't like to eat fish, so you conclude that she is not a cat. But, what if the first statement (that all cats like fish) isn't true? What if only most cats like fish? In that case, your cat might just be the exception to the rule, but that doesn't mean that she's not a cat.


Imagine for a minute that you're starting a new job. You walk into the office for the first time and see a woman sitting behind a desk right next to the door. She's answering phone calls. Who is the woman? How can she help you? If you're like most people, you said that the woman is a receptionist, and she can tell you where to go since it's your first day and you don't know the office yet. But, how do you know that she's a receptionist?

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account