Cognitive science is an interdisciplinary field that explores the human mind. If you are interested in using linguistics, psychology, philosophy, machine learning, artificial intelligence, neuroscience, and anthropology to understand how the brain functions, then you might want to take a cognitive science course.
While studying cognitive science, you will go on a journey through the studies of the mind. Read through our guide to learn about cognitive science, its sub-sectors, and how you can learn it by taking in-person or online courses.
What Is Cognitive Science?
Cognitive science is an interdisciplinary field because it links together the ways that different academic fields view the mind. In cognitive science, language is a key factor, particularly the language used in various fields.
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For example, a neuroscientist sees the brain as a wiring system and will describe it using terms like neuronal firing and wiring. Alternatively, a philosopher will ask questions about existence and thought. A computer scientist focuses on programming and will see a machine through their knowledge of coding languages. Lastly, a psychologist thinks of the mind through behavior, using words like the subconscious, the id and the ego.
Cognitive science removes the language barriers between the fields. In cognitive science, all of the fields mentioned above are interlinked and understanding them involves creating a bridging vocabulary between the fields.
Types of Cognitive Sciences
Below are just a few of the research areas within cognitive science, many of which have multiple sub-sectors within them. The journey of understanding how the mind works means understanding the many academic fields and how they are interconnected.
Cognitive psychology is the process of understanding the mind’s memory, perception, attention, language, thinking, and consciousness from a scientific perspective. Unlike psychology, which studies human behavior, cognitive psychology looks at the internal processes that affect those behaviors.
Philosophy is the study of the nature of our reality and existence. The process of analyzing arguments to reach the best conclusions is part of cognitive science as well as a philosophical principle.
AI and Computation
Cognitive science explores how we can use artificial intelligence and computing to share information. Psychological and computational theories have advanced as computer scientists have created algorithms, artificial neural networks, and artificial intelligence that can reproduce aspects of the human mind in a machine.
Machine learning deploys learning mechanisms like neural networks to enable machines to do simple tasks like recognizing the difference between two breeds of dogs. The goal is to understand and replicate human mental processes, making it a critical part of cognitive science.
Neuroscience is the medical way of viewing the mind and its physical processes. It is the understanding of the chemicals, and neurons of the mind.
Whereas a psychologist will try to help change behavior patterns of the mind, a neuroscientist will research the nervous system, including the brain, nerve cells, and spinal cord. This is yet another piece of the puzzle for cognitive scientists.
Anthropology is the study of human cultures and how they influence the way we think. Our decisions on everything from what we wear to how we communicate is largely dictated by our culture. Cognitive science aims to explore how culture affects the mind.
Cultural anthropology and biological anthropology seek to explain patterns of shared knowledge and cultural innovation using cognitive science.
It is a common misconception that linguistics is the study of foreign languages. In fact, linguistics explores how languages relate to brain function. Many data models within linguistics help decipher how we learn to place words in a certain order.
Linguistics addresses questions like how does the brain construct sentences? How do we learn new languages? And, why do languages change over time?
Cognitive Science Theories
Below are some examples of the theories of cognitive science to give you a brief idea of the discoveries that have been made in this area.
- Formal logic. Formal logic is a mixture of mathematics, programming, and philosophy. It gives cognitive scientists the tools with which to reason.
- Rules. The mind follows a set of rules, whether we learn them through language or traditional learning in school. When you plan to do something during your day, your mind may think, “if” I were to do X, “then” I will achieve Y. This type of mental planning is part of the rules that create patterns within the mind.
- Concepts. These partly correspond to the words in spoken and written language, and are an essential kind of mental representation. Concepts allow you to explore abandoning strict definitions to discover the computational and psychological reasons behind ideas.
- Analogies. The constraints of similarity and structure show us how memory can help us face new issues. Analogies can be very useful in design and education.
- Images. Neurophysiological results show a close physical link between mental imagery and our perceptions. Imagery is not just visual. It also connects with other senses such as smell, hearing, touch, and taste.
- Connectionism. Connectionist networks consist of nodes and links that help us understand the psychological processes of gathering information and making decisions.
- Theoretical neuroscience. Theoretical neuroscience is based on models of the behavior of realistic neurons organized into functionally significant brain areas.
- Bayesian. Bayesian models are applied to psychological phenomena like learning, social cognition, vision, motor control, and language.
- Deep learning. Artificial intelligence is a critical part of cognitive science. Advances in AI include everything from breakthroughs in game playing to translating languages and object recognition.
Learning Cognitive Science: How Long Does It Take?
It can take anywhere from four to nine years to learn about cognitive science through a traditional route. Typically, students will complete a bachelor’s degree, with the option of pursuing a master’s degree or PhD.
The exciting thing about this mixture of humanities courses and sciences is you can pick any courses you are interested in from the various fields within cognitive science. For example, you could complete a bachelor’s in psychology before moving on to a cognitive science master’s degree.
You may also want to pursue online studies to become more specialized in one topic, or to make sure your knowledge is up-to-date.
How to Learn Cognitive Science: Step-by-Step
Below are the step-by-step details of how you can succeed in the field of cognitive science. This process is intended for complete beginners looking at following a traditional college route with some extra online courses thrown into the mix.
- Develop skills. As you study the subjects mentioned earlier, you should also consider developing extra skills in high school and college. This includes computer programming, reading philosophical and psychological studies, taking additional math courses, discovering deep learning or machine learning, and learning about the brain’s biological functions and processes.
- Obtain a bachelor’s degree. Once you are studying your cognitive science major or a related degree, you might also want to take additional short online courses in relevant topics. You can even reach out to cognitive science networks and groups to learn more and gain internships.
- Gain work experience. After getting your bachelor’s degree, you can either start working or go straight into your master’s degree. But, keep in mind that work experience could lead to new opportunities and extra money, and you can also continue your learning online.
- Pursue graduate studies. This is where students can investigate specific areas within cognitive science, do more research, and present their findings. This is an essential option for those who wish to get their PhD.
The Best Cognitive Science Courses and Training
There is so much to learn about the functions of the mind. You can find many cognitive science programs, courses, and training for any level. Here are some of our top picks for cognitive science courses, offered both online and in-person.
Best In-Person Cognitive Science Courses
Below are a few programs that will give you a place to begin your research on what university you may want to attend. These courses are great for those who have already taken some short courses on cognitive science and are ready to pursue a degree in the subject.
Johns Hopkins University
- Cognitive Science (BA, MA, or PhD)
- Where: Baltimore, MD
- Time: Varies
Johns Hopkins provides a bachelor’s, master’s, and a PhD program in cognitive science. In the BA program, students will learn about cognitive psychology, neuropsychology, linguistics, computational approaches to cognition, neuroscience, philosophy of mind, and the principles of cognitive science.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- Where: Cambridge, MA
- Time: Varies
These MIT courses differ slightly. One focuses on the various cognitive science fields, while the other focuses on its computational aspects. Topics covered include systems neuroscience, perception of speech, robotics, computational psycholinguistics, and principles of neuroengineering.
- Where: West Lafayette, IN
- Time: Varies
In these Purdue courses, students will learn either about information processing in the brain and behavioral sciences, or neural networks. The first provides a neuroscience and cognitive psychology skillset, while the second focuses on computational algorithms and network models.
Best Online Cognitive Science Courses
Below are some paid online courses for those interested in topics within cognitive science.
- Where: Online
- Time: 10 hours to 4 months
- Price: Varies (7 days free)
These Coursera classes are a great introduction to fields related to cognitive science for students who are looking to either continue studies or brush up on an unfamiliar topic.
- Robotics: Cognitive Technologies
- Advance Your Skills in Deep Learning & Neural Networks
- Where: Online
- Time: 2 to 16 hours
- Price: Varies (First month free)
Best Free Online Cognitive Science Courses
Here are a few more free cognitive science courses. These courses all contain vital knowledge of psychology, machine learning, and programming.
- Introduction to Cognitive Psychology: An Experimental Science
- Where: Online
- Time: 3 weeks
- Price: Free (Paid certification)
In this psychology-focused Future Learn course, students will learn several critical cognitive science topics. Topics covered include psychology as an experimental science and how to conduct an experiment in psychology.
- Machine Learning Crash Course
- Where: Online
- Time: 15 hours
- Prerequisites: None
- Price: Free
In this Google course, students will learn fundamental machine learning concepts. The course is perfect for students who have already taken some cognitive science courses and want to learn more about a machine’s learning processes.
- Where: Online
- Time: Varies
- Price: Free
Khan Academy is a nonprofit organization that provides excellent free classes on computer programming, math, and more. These free classes are great for students who want to explore machine learning or cognitive aspects of politics.
Best Cognitive Science Books
Here are some valuable texts to help you learn about cognitive science, cognitive therapy, and deep learning. Add these to your list to broaden your cognitive science toolkit.
Cognitive Science: An Introduction to the Science of the Mind, José Luis Bermúdez
This text teaches students to apply a cognitive scientist’s techniques and describes the vast range of methods used to study the mind. Organized by theme, this book underscores the problems and solutions of cognitive science.
Behavioral Experiments in Cognitive Therapy, James Bennett-Levy
This volume guides professionals hoping to design and implement behavioral experiments. It includes essays written by clinicians for clinicians, as well as several chapters on transdiagnostic problems.
Handbook of Cognitive Science, Keith Frankish
This volume of essays introduces the fundamentals of cognitive science and explores its theories and philosophies. With a focus on broad philosophical themes, this book is great for cognitive scientists and philosophers.
Deep Learning, Ian Goodfellow
Goodfellow’s text covers relevant concepts in probability theory, information theory, numerical computation, and machine learning. Readers will learn about natural language processing, computer vision, speech recognition, online recommendation systems, video games, and bioinformatics.
Should You Study Cognitive Science?
Does researching and learning about the mind sound thrilling to you? If so, you should consider a career in one of the disciplines within cognitive science. Explore a multitude of subjects relating to the mind, and explore what it means to be a human being.
If you want to learn more about the key psychology courses for every psych major, or other areas related to cognitive science, head over to our blog to keep reading. We hope this guide has helped you find a cognitive science course that’s right for you.
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