What Exactly is Cognitive Science?

2 min readOct 20, 2020


As Cognitive Science majors, I’m sure many of us have had to face similar conversations, similar pauses and similar confused looks. Having to explain the difference between Cognitive Science, Neuroscience, Psychology or Computer Science can be quite challenging, especially if our own distinctions are a little hazy. By the end of this article, hopefully you have a clearer answer to the big question- what exactly is Cognitive Science?

The origins of Cognitive Science date back to the mid 1950s with the birth of the ‘Cognitive Revolution’ (I’m not being dramatic, that’s really what it’s called). Allen Newell, Noam Chomsky and George Miller are regarded as the founders of Cognitive Science because they challenged previous behaviorist ideologies that considered the mind a ‘black box’ connection between a stimulus and a response. They used their multidisciplinary knowledge to apply theories of computation to describe cognition and the mind. Years later, the founding meeting of the Cognitive Science Society was held right here on our very campus at UC San Diego and soon after, the first Cognitive Science Department in the world was founded at UCSD!

Cognitive Science is an interdisciplinary study of the mind and its processes, unifying three different categories: the brain, behavior and computation. In order to understand intelligent behavior, Cognitive Science interchanges methods with fields such as Computer Science, Linguistics, Psychology, Neuroscience, Anthropology and Philosophy. As Cognitive Scientists we not only aim to borrow techniques from these fields to better understand higher-level cognitive functions such as memory, attention and reasoning, but also use our knowledge of the mind to apply to and advance other disciplines.

How is Cognitive Science different to Neuroscience or Computer Science? The primary distinction is that Cognitive Science encompasses Computer Science and Neuroscience and not the other way around. While Neuroscience focuses on the nervous system, Cognitive Science incorporates anything to do with cognition and intelligent behavior. It uses Computer Science to model cognitive phenomena and understand how the brain works.

With Cognitive Science as a handy toolbox for various disciplines, a world of opportunity lies at your doorstep.