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What is Cognitive Science?

Cognitive science consists of several disciplines – philosophy, artificial intelligence, psychology, neuroscience, linguistics, education, and anthropology. The preceding are the seven disciplines on the logo of the Cognitive Science Society (CSS). The logo and words are also on the cover of their Cognitive Science journal. The CSS incorporated in 1979 in Massachusetts and their first conference took place in August of the same year.

More simply stated, cognitive science is the study of mind and intelligence. Isn’t that the same as psychology? By definition, psychology is the study of the mind and behavior. As with cognitive science, philosophy preceded psychology by approximately two thousand years. The 5th and 4th century B.C. philosophers of Plato and Aristotle were the psychologists of their era.

The focus of psychology is behavior. It is the study of the causes and consequences of behavior. Whereas, cognitive science is the study of cognition. The list includes perception, learning, attention, reasoning, knowledge, and communication. These areas of study apply to cognitive modeling, human-computer interaction, cognitive prosthetics, artificial intelligence, and cognitive ergonomics, for examples.

Bachelor of:

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A typical program includes the essential components of cognitive science. These are the seven disciplines mentioned in the first paragraph. The coursework may have computational modeling and neuroscience. Computational modeling may piggy-back with artificial intelligence (AI). You may learn about bionic and prosthetic technology. One example is the use of brain waves for a person with quadriplegia to control a cursor on a computer screen. AI has become a household word in the 21st century. However, the first use of the term was in 1956.

The School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at the University-Dallas offers a 120-credit B.S. degree in cognitive science. The science-related courses include computer and cognitive science, algebra, psychology, mathematics for computing, and software engineering. From sophomore through your senior year, the curriculum has several electives from which to choose. One example is a class in cognitive neuroscience that examines perception, attention, emotion, and memory. Through the use of neuroimaging equipment and physiological techniques, you study how the brain functions in brain-damaged and schizophrenic patients.

The major courses in the above program differ according to the two of three specializations you select. The choices are Neuroscience, Psychology/Human-Computer Interactions, and Computational Modeling/AI.

Some college degrees have a stronger association with psychology. An example is the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences Department of Psychology at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Instead of the seven disciplines in the CSS logo, this program eliminates education and anthropology. The emphasis on computer science focuses on machine learning, AI, computer simulations as a test of cognition.

Carnegie Mellon divides cognitive science into the concentrations of Computer Science, Psychology, Philosophy, Linguistics, Decision Sciences, and Neurosciences. Decision Sciences offers only one course, whereas seventeen choices. Students take three courses from any of these concentrations.

Bachelor of:

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Some schools have an arts degree that reduces the emphasis on computer science. The University of California-Davis has a B.A. with a choice of courses from six groups. The group headings are Computational, Neuroscience, Linguistics, Philosophy, Psychology, and Other. The latter has an assortment of choices in communication, psychobiology, language, regression analysis, neurobiology, and more.

The Department of Cognitive Science at Case Western Reserve University also has a Bachelor of Arts program. Students with interest in the biology of cognition may consider the school. Three classes, in particular, explore the biological aspect. The subjects are Neurobiology of Behavior, Neurobiology Lab, Introduction to Neurobiology, and Evolutionary Biology. All of these are on an extensive list of electives. Other courses in the same vein are Biomedical Image Processing, Biomedical Signals & Systems, Modeling of Biomedical Systems, and Biomedical Computer Simulation Laboratory.

Generally, the arts degree will have fewer mathematics classes. However, expect a required course in statistics or statistical analysis.

Specializations exist in a B.A. program. You could choose one of four concentrations at Rice University in Houston, Texas. Their Cognitive Science major requires 42-45 credit hours in the major of the 120 total. The four options are:

Linguistics: A shortlist of offerings include phonology, the psychology of language, phonetics, speech, and hearing science, language acquisition, and semantics.

Neuroscience: Your choice of 9-12 credits cover topics such as cognitive neuroscience, neurolinguistics, neuropsychology of language and memory, computational neuroscience, and human neuroimaging.

Philosophy: The choices number only eight courses, each being three credits. Comprising the list is the philosophy of mind, philosophy of psychology, animal minds, mathematical logic, and philosophy of neuroscience.

Psychology: This specialization has the most extensive list with twenty-one courses for the requisite 9-12 credits. The selections include brain and behavior, human-computer interaction, perception, computational modeling, developmental psychology, and reasoning/decision making.

Additional Resources: 

How much Science is there in a Bachelor’s Degree in Neuroscience?

The Hidden Benefits of a Degree in Psychology

What Are the Different Kinds of Psychology Degrees?

What Degree Do I Need to Be a Psychologist?