Cognitive Science Glossary

Paul Thagard

This is the glossary from P. Thagard, Mind: Introduction to Cognitive Science, second edition, MIT Press, 2005.

Note: Words in italics have their own entries in the glossary.

Abduction Reasoning that generates hypotheses to explain puzzling facts.

ACT “Adaptive Control of Thought” – A computational theory of thinking developed by John Anderson.

Affective computing Study of computing technology that relates to, arises from, or deliberately influences emotions.

Algorithm A step-by-step procedure for solving a problem.

Amygdala Almond-shaped part of the brain involved in emotions such as fear.

Analogy Mental process that makes connections between relations in two sets of objects.

Anthropology The study of the origins, distribution, social relations, and culture of human beings.

Artificial intelligence The study of how computers can be programmed to perceive, reason, and act.

Backprogagation Learning algorithm in feedforward networks that adjusts the strengths of the links between neurons.

Bayesian network A directed graph that that can be used to reason with probabilistic information.

Case-based reasoning Reasoning by analogy.

Chaos Property of a dynamic system that it is highly sensitive to small changes.

Cognitive grammar Approach to linguistics that rejects the traditional separation of syntax and semantics.

Cognitive science The interdisciplinary study of mind and intelligence.

Coma State of deep unconsciousness caused by disease or injury.

Computation Physical process with states that represent states of another system and with transitions between states that amount to operations on the representations.

Concept Mental representation of a class of objects or events that belong together, usually corresponding to a word.

Conceptual change Process in which concepts acquire new meaning.

Conceptual combination Process in which new concepts are constructed by joining or juxtaposing old ones.

Connectionism Approach to cognitive science that models thinking by artificial neural networks.

Consciousness Mental state involving attention, awareness, and qualitative experience.

Cortex Outer layer of the brain, responsible for many higher cognitive functions.

CRUM The Computational-Representational Understanding of Mind: the hypothesis that thinking is performed by computations operating on representations.

Culture The way of life of a society, including beliefs and behaviors.

Data structure An organization of information in a computer program.

Deduction Reasoning from premises to a conclusion such that if the premises are true then the conclusion must also be true.

Distributed artificial intelligence Problem solving that requires communication among more than one computer, each of which possesses some intelligence.

Distributed cognition Problem solving that requires communication among more than one thinker.

Distributed representation Neural networks that use patterns of activity in multiple nodes or neurons to stand for objects or situations.

Dopamine Neurotransmitter involved in reward pathways in the brain.

Dualism Philosophical view that the mind consists of two separate substances, soul and body.

Dynamic (dynamical) system Collection of interacting objects whose changes are describable by mathematical equations.

Electroencephalogram (EEG) Recording of electrical activity in the brain.

Embodiment Property of having a body and experiencing the world by means of it.

Emotion Positive or negative mental state that combines physiological input with cognitive appraisal.

Emotional intelligence Ability to deal effectively with the emotions of oneself and others.

Empiricism The philosophical view that knowledge comes primarily from sensory experience.

Explanation schema Mental representation of a pattern of causal connections.

Feedforward network Artificial neural network in which the flow of activity is in one direction, from input neurons to output neurons.

Frame Data structure that represents a concept or schema.

Functionalism Version of materialism according to which mental states are defined by their functional relations, not by any particular kind of physical realization.

Hebbian learning Process in neural networks that strengthens the association between two neurons that are simultaneously active.

Hippocampus Brain region involved in the acquisition of memories.

Image Mental structure that is similar to what it represents.

Induction Reasoning that introduces uncertainty.

Inheritance Form of inference in which information is transferred from a higher to a lower structure.

Innate A representation or process that is genetic rather than learned.

Insula (insular cortex) Brain region that integrates information from many bodily senses.

Intentionality Property of a representation or mental state that it is about some aspect of the world.

Lesion Abnormal change in an organ such as the brain.

Linguistics The study of language.

Link Connection between two artificial neurons that enables one to influence the activity of the other.

Local representation Artificial neural network in which each node stands for a single concept or proposition.

Logic The study of valid reasoning.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI and fMRI) Technique that uses magnets to produce images of the structure and function of organs.

Materialism Philosophical view that minds are purely physical.

Meaning The content of a representation that results from its relations to other representations and the world.

Mechanism System of interconnected parts that produces regular changes.

Memory Storage of information, either temporary (short-term or working memory) or permanent (long-term).

Mental model Mental structure that approximately stands for something in the world.

Mental representation A structure or process in the mind that stands for something.

Metaphor Use of language to understand and experience one kind of thing in terms of another.

Model Structure that approximately represents some objects or events.

Multiagent system Interacting collection of computers capable of intelligent action.

Neural network Interconnected group of neurons.

Neuron Nerve cell.

Neuroscience Study of the structure and functioning of brains.

Neurotransmitter Molecule that transmits nerve impulses across a synapse.

Parallel Process in which more than computation is performed at the same time.

Parallel constraint satisfaction Process in which a problem is solved by using a parallel algorithm to find the best assignment of values to interconnected aspects of the problem.

Parallel distributed processing Approach to cognitive science that models thinking by artificial neural networks with distributed representations.

Philosophy Study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, existence, and morality.

Positron emission tomography (PET) Technique that uses radioactive isotopes to produces images of the chemical function of organs such as blood flow in the brain.

Prefrontal cortex Area of the brain at the front of the front of the cortex, responsible for the highest cognitive functions such as reasoning.

Production Rule: a representation of the form IF something THEN something.

Psychology Study of the minds of humans and other animals.

Rationalism The philosophical view that knowledge comes primarily by reasoning that is independent of sensory experience.

Recurrent network Neural network in which the output of some neurons feeds back via intervening connections to become input to them.

Relaxation Process in which an artificial neural network reaches a state of stable activations.

Representation A structure or activity that stands for something.

Robot Machine capable of performing complex physical acts similar to ones done by humans.

Rule A mental representation of the form IF something THEN something.

Schema A mental representation of a class of objects, events, or practices.

Search A computational process of looking for or carrying out a sequence of actions that lead to desired states.

Situated action Action that results from being embedded in a physical or social world.

SOAR “State, Operator, And Result” – A computational theory of thinking developed by Allen Newell and others.

Social cognition Study of how people think about each other.

Social epistemology Study of social practices that encourage or inhibit the development of knowledge.

Somatic marker Brain signal corresponding to states of the body relevant to emotions.

Source analog Set of objects, properties, and relations that suggests conclusions about a target analog.

Spike train Firing pattern of a neuron, consisting of a sequence of firing episodes.

Spreading activation Computational process in which the activity of one structure leads to the activity of an associated structure.

Syllogism Kind of deduction in which the premises and conclusions have forms such as “All A are B” and “No A are B”.

Synapse Space in which a signal passes from one neuron to another.

Target analog Set of objects, properties, and relations that can be learned about by comparison to a source analog.

Theory Set of hypotheses that explain observations.

Thought experiment Use of the imagination to investigate nature.

Ventromedial prefrontal cortex The bottom-middle part of the prefrontal cortex.

Whorf hypothesis Conjecture that language determines how we perceive and think about the world.


Computational Epistemology Laboratory.

Paul Thagard.

This page updated Jan. 3, 2006.