Cognitive science is an interdisciplinary field that overlaps with fields as diverse as psychology, neuroscience, computer science, linguistics and philosophy. As a result, cognitive science programs can be equally diverse, depending on which area or areas of study they focus. Cognitive science programs may also be on either the undergraduate or graduate level.
Many cognitive science programs are made up of courses from various departments, allowing students to create their own specialties within the field. Others, however, are more concentrated within a given department. The types of courses offered within the department and the degree awarded at completion of the program are indicators of what areas of cognitive science are emphasized at that school.
Programs found within the psychology department, for instance, may do experiments to see how humans respond to various learning challenges in a controlled environment. Neuroscience-based cognitive science programs may have similar goals, but investigate specifically the biological workings of the brain. They may use neural imaging or other technologies to monitor how the brain accomplishes certain tasks.
Some cognitive science programs emphasize artificial intelligence. In this sub-field of cognitive science, researchers study how the mind processes information in order to create computer models that can mimic human intelligence. This branch of study assumes that human connections in the mind are analogous to logical rules in a computer. Programs of study concentrating on cognitive linguistics may map out grammar rules of English or another language in order to "teach" computers to create speech or text that mimics human language.
While the types of cognitive science programs described above tend to have practical and experimental courses, some programs focus more on philosophical aspects of cognition. These are primarily theoretical rather than experimental. They may discuss the relationship of the mind to the body and other concerns.
In addition to differences in methodology and approach, cognitive science programs also vary based on the types of degrees they award. Some schools offer only master's or PhD level programs, others offer only undergraduate degrees, and many offer both. Studies in cognitive science at the undergraduate level are likely to have more classroom-based courses and fewer research-based courses. The opposite is true for graduate level programs.