What is Cognitive Science?
Cognitive Science is the contemporary interdisciplinary study of cognition. Six disciplines compose cognitive science:
Many people (including at UCSD, home to the first Cognitive Science standalone department) have no idea what cognitive science is, and even if they have some idea, they usually think it is no different from psychology. I am going to elucidate the differences and describe the other components of cognitive science.
Psychology: Cognitive science is the study of cognition, and humans cognize as part of their behavior. The study of human behavior is psychology, so naturally the study of cognition falls within the realm of psychology. In particular, the overlap between psychology and cognitive science is called, unsurprisingly, cognitive psychology and includes the subfields of perception, memory, language, emotion, judgment and decision making, reasoning, and attention, among others. There is some overlap between these areas and others listed below. Most cognitive science that you read about falls within this realm. (Of note is that at UCSD there are more cognitive psychologists in the Psychology department than in the Cognitive Science department.) Psychology that does not overlap with cognitive science includes developmental psychology (besides the development of cognition), clinical psychology (except cognitive neuropsychology), and social psychology (exception social cognition). Clearly the relationship between psychology and cognitive science is a tight one.
Computer Science: Computer science is important for cognitive science in several ways, but the most important is in Artificial Intelligence, which is the study of how human cognitive can be modelled, simulated, or realized by computers. Computer vision, speech recognition software, and ergonomic user interfaces are all application of computer science with respect to cognitive science. Other areas of cognitive science that have computer science and engineering elements are human-computer interaction, brain-computer interface, and prosthetic development.
Neuroscience: Cognitive science is the study of cognition; brains cognize, and neuroscience is the study of the brain. It is natural that cognitive neuroscience is another of the primary fields that comprise cognitive science. Cognitive neuroscience is the study of how brain structure informs brain function with respect to cognition. Any time you see a brain scan while someone is performing a task, you are witnessing cognitive neuroscience in action. The purpose of cognitive neuroscience is to answer how the brain is able to do what it does; that is, what are the specific functional properties of the brain that give rise to perception, memory, language, emotion, attention, and consciousness? Right now, most cognitive neuroscience focuses on the level of brain areas or single cells because the technology available to neuroscientists has a limited scope. This is the most promising and explanatorily powerful field of cognitive science. (It’s the one I want to do most of my research in!) It overlaps with psychology in the field of behavioral neuroscience, and in the field of cognitive neuropsychology, which is the study of how brain injuries cause specific cognitive effects.
Anthropology: Anthropology is the least represented of the cognitive sciences, but its relationship to cognitive science is quite important. Anthropology is the study of humans, and, since human cognize, cognitive anthropology is a useful approach to studying both cognition and anthropology. In particular, cultural anthropology examines how culture affects cognition, and how cognition can be distributed among members of a group. Less rigorous and explanatorily weaker than the other scientific branches of cognitive science, some see anthropology as not a true branch.
Linguistics: In some departments, linguistics, the study of language, represents the majority of the cognitive sciences. This is true of some departments on the East Coast, including that of Johns Hopkins University. Cognitive linguistics is a research program in linguistics that sees language as an essential and ineliminable aspect of cognition not separate from other aspects. That is, language affects everything. Unlike some other branches of linguistics, cognitive linguistics takes the position that language knowledge comes from language use; that is, we are not born with linguistic knowledge. Other areas related to language and cognition include psycholinguistics, the study of the psychological factors affecting language, and neurolinguistics of the study of how language is instantiated in the brain.
Philosophy: The beauty and excitement of cognitive science comes in part from its interdisciplinary nature; not all of the cognitive sciences are actually sciences, and philosophy represents the analytical and theoretic nature of cognitive science that separates it from a simple amalgam of the aforementioned sciences. In particular, philosophy of mind, which is the branch of philosophy dealing with the relationship between the mind and the brain, plays a huge role in understanding evidence garnered by the sciences and guiding research toward a meaningful end. Other areas of interest to cognitive science include philosophy of the cognitive sciences, which examines theoretical questions that come up in the cognitive sciences (such as “What is a concept?”, “How does data play a role in the debate between innate grammar and empiricist learning?”, and “What does it mean for a brain state to represent something?”), and philosophy of science, which address questions of methodology, truth, and evidence in the sciences.
And there you have it. If your major isn’t cognitive science or one of the cognitive sciences, I hope you’ve thought long and hard about why this isn’t the most interesting thing you could study. If you’re thinking about studying the cognitive sciences or just want to talk about how awesome this field is, please let me know!
What is The Halo Effect?
The halo effect or halo error is a cognitive bias in which our judgments of a person’s character can be influenced by our overall impression of them. It can be found in a range of situations—from the courtroom to the classroom and in everyday interactions. The halo effect was given its name by psychologist Edward Thorndike and since then, several researchers have studied the halo effect in relation to attractiveness, and its bearing on the judicial and educational systems.Supporting evidence
Thorndike’s first study of the halo effect was published in 1920. The study included two commanding officers who were asked to evaluate their soldiers in terms of physical qualities (neatness, voice, physique, bearing, and energy), intellect, leadership skills, and personal qualities (including dependability, loyalty, responsibility, selflessness, and cooperation). Thorndike’s goal was to see how the ratings of one characteristic affected other characteristics.
Thorndike’s experiment showed how there was too much of a correlation in the responses of the commanding officers. In Thorndike’s review he stated, “The correlations were too high and too even. For example, for the three raters next studied the average correlation for physique with intelligence is .31; for physique with leadership, .39; and for physique with character, .28.” The ratings of one of the special qualities of an officer tend to start a trend in the rating results. If an officer had a particular “negative” attribute given off to the commanding officer, it would correlate in the rest of that soldier’s results.
The correlation in the halo effect experiment was concluded to be a halo error. The halo error showed that the officers relied mainly on general perception of certain characteristics that determined the results of their answers.
“ "The moment one thinks of the matter, one sees how false a notion of experience that is which would make it tantamount to the mere presence to the senses of an outward order. Millions of items of the outward order are present to my senses which never properly enter into my experience. Why? Because they have no interest for me. My experience is what I agree to attend to. Only those items which I notice shape my mind—without selective interest, experience is an utter chaos. Interest alone gives accent and emphasis, light and shade, background and foreground —intelligible perspective, in a word." ”—William James, American philosopher and psychologist who had trained as a physician. He was the first educator to offer a psychology course in the United States (1842-1910), The Principles of Psychology, Volume 1, (1890), Cosimo, Inc., Apr 30, 2007, p.402.
Rolf Fobelli: News is to the mind what sugar is to the body
“We humans seem to be natural-born signal hunters, we’re terrible at regulating our intake of information. We’ll consume a ton of noise if we sense we may discover an added ounce of signal. So our instinct is at war with our capacity for making sense.”
“When people struggle to describe the state that the Internet puts them in they arrive at a remarkably familiar picture of disassociation and fragmentation. Life was once whole, continuous, stable; now it is fragmented, multi-part, shimmering around us, unstable and impossible to fix. The world becomes Keats’s “waking dream,” as the writer Kevin Kelly puts it.”
“Our brains are wired to pay attention to visible, large, scandalous, sensational, shocking, peoplerelated, story-formatted, fast changing, loud, graphic onslaughts of stimuli. Our brains have limited attention to spend on more subtle pieces of intelligence that are small, abstract, ambivalent, complex, slow to develop and quiet, much less silent. News organizations systematically exploit this bias. News media outlets, by and large, focus on the highly visible. They display whatever information they can convey with gripping stories and lurid pictures, and they systematically ignore the subtle and insidious, even if that material is more important. News grabs our attention; that’s how its business model works. Even if the advertising model didn’t exist, we would still soak up news pieces because they are easy to digest and superficially quite tasty. The highly visible misleads us. (…)
- Terrorism is overrated. Chronic stress is underrated.
- The collapse of Lehman Brothers is overrated. Fiscal irresponsibility is underrated.
- Astronauts are overrated. Nurses are underrated.
- Britney Spears is overrated. IPCC reports are underrated.
- Airplane crashes are overrated. Resistance to antibiotics is underrated.
Afraid you will miss “something important”? From my experience, if something really important happens, you will hear about it, even if you live in a cocoon that protects you from the news. Friends and colleagues will tell you about relevant events far more reliably than any news organization. They will fill you in with the added benefit of meta-information, since they know your priorities and you know how they think. You will learn far more about really important events and societal shifts by reading about them in specialized journals, in-depth magazines or good books and by talking to the people who know. (…)
The more “news factoids” you digest, the less of the big picture you will understand. (…)
Thinking requires concentration. Concentration requires uninterrupted time. News items are like free-floating radicals that interfere with clear thinking. News pieces are specifically engineered to interrupt you. They are like viruses that steal attention for their own purposes. (…)
This is about the inability to think clearly because you have opened yourself up to the disruptive factoid stream. News makes us shallow thinkers. But it’s worse than that. News severely affects memory. (…)
News is an interruption system. It seizes your attention only to scramble it. Besides a lack of glucose in your blood stream, news distraction is the biggest barricade to clear thinking. (…)
In the words of Professor Michael Merzenich (University of California, San Francisco), a pioneer in the field of neuroplasticity: “We are training our brains to pay attention to the crap.” (…)
Good professional journalists take time with their stories, authenticate their facts and try to think things through. But like any profession, journalism has some incompetent, unfair practitioners who don’t have the time – or the capacity – for deep analysis. You might not be able to tell the difference between a polished professional report and a rushed, glib, paid-by-the-piece article by a writer with an ax to grind. It all looks like news.
My estimate: fewer than 10% of the news stories are original. Less than 1% are truly investigative. And only once every 50 years do journalists uncover a Watergate.
Many reporters cobble together the rest of the news from other people’s reports, common knowledge, shallow thinking and whatever the journalist can find on the internet. Some reporters copy from each other or refer to old pieces, without necessarily catching up with any interim corrections. The copying and the copying of the copies multiply the flaws in the stories and their irrelevance. (…)
Overwhelming evidence indicates that forecasts by journalists and by experts in finance, social development, global conflicts and technology are almost always completely wrong. So, why consume that junk?
Did the newspapers predict World War I, the Great Depression, the sexual revolution, the fall of the Soviet empire, the rise of the Internet, resistance to antibiotics, the fall of Europe’s birth rate or the explosion in depression cases? Maybe, you’d find one or two correct predictions in a sea of millions of mistaken ones. Incorrect forecast are not only useless, they are harmful.
To increase the accuracy of your predictions, cut out the news and roll the dice or, if you are ready for depth, read books and knowledgeable journals to understand the invisible generators that affect our world. (…)
I have now gone without news for a year, so I can see, feel and report the effects of this freedom first hand: less disruption, more time, less anxiety, deeper thinking, more insights. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.”
Table of Contents:
No 1 – News misleads us systematically
No 2 – News is irrelevant
No 3 – News limits understanding
No 4 – News is toxic to your body
No 5 – News massively increases cognitive errors
No 6 – News inhibits thinking
No 7 – News changes the structure of your brain
No 8 – News is costly
No 9 – News sunders the relationship between reputation and achievement
No 10 – News is produced by journalists
No 11 – Reported facts are sometimes wrong, forecasts always
No 12 – News is manipulative
No 13 – News makes us passive
No 14 – News gives us the illusion of caring
No 15 – News kills creativity
— Rolf Dobelli, Swiss novelist, writer, entrepreneur and curator of zurich.minds, to read full essay click Avoid News. Towards a Healthy News Diet (pdf), 2010. (Illustration: Information Overload by taylorboren)
☞ The Difference Between Online Knowledge and Truly Open Knowledge. In the era of the Internet facts are not bricks but networks
☞ Nicholas Carr on the evolution of communication technology and our compulsive consumption of information
☞ Does Google Make Us Stupid?
☞ Nicholas Carr on what the internet is doing to our brains?
☞ How the Internet Affects Our Memories: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips
☞ Dr Paul Howard-Jones, The impact of digital technologies on human wellbeing (pdf), University of Bristol
☞ William Deresiewicz on multitasking and the value of solitude
☞ Information tag on Lapidarium
a kid in my class was just trying to describe something from the cognitive science part of our class and he said something about “a separate part of me that observes things differently almost like a different person” and another kid goes “i think that’s schizophrenia”
i just witnessed a text post IRL