What Are the Different Theories of Cognition?

Helen Akers

The different theories of cognition explore how intelligence, personality, and brain responses to external stimulation develop throughout life. Unified theories of cognition examine how the brain processes information, while theories of cognitive development explain the brain's capabilities during various life stages, such as infancy versus adolescence. According to some theories, while cognition is in its developmental stages, the human brain uses the techniques of assimilation and accommodation.

The different theories of cognition study how brain responses to external stimulation develop throughout life.
The different theories of cognition study how brain responses to external stimulation develop throughout life.

Within the different theories of cognition is an explanation as to how the brain responds to stimulation and what influences behavior behind the human decision process. According to unified theories of cognition, the foundation of human intelligence is a series of patterns, associations, and structures. Essentially, the brain looks for patterns, records them, and initiates behavioral responses based on previous outcomes. When it comes time to make a decision or choose between more than one option, the brain automatically relies on its acquired knowledge to reach a decision.

The study of cognitive development identifies two different processes that the brain uses to adjust to external stimulation. According to the different theories of cognition, assimilation modifies information from an individual's environment so that it matches with one of the brain's existing patterns. Accommodation occurs when the brain modifies its patterns and structures to incorporate information received from an individual's environment.

Both processes of accommodation and assimilation can be used by the brain during various developmental stages. The different theories of cognition outline four stages of intellectual development, including the sensorimotor, pre-operational, concrete operational, and formal operational stages. During infancy the sensorimotor stage occurs and is characterized by physical responses to stimulation. As the infant develops physically, new intelligence is gathered by an increase in abilities and interactions with the environment.

The pre-operational stage of cognitive development usually begins around three to four years old. A person's intellectual ability is communicated and developed through language and symbols. At this stage, the brain begins to develop the ability to memorize and imagine.

According to the different theories of cognition, the concrete operational stage is where the majority of adult humans end their development. This stage is characterized by the loss of egocentric thought patterns and the ability to think in a logical manner. The brain begins to develop a pattern of thinking that ties separate functions or steps together as a system.

Some adolescents and adults reach the formal operational stage. It is characterized by the ability to think abstractly and some egocentric thought patterns reemerge during this stage. Symbols or associations within the brain's structure become associated with a generalized or higher concept.

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