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Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine

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How we understand cognition

Cognition refers to the computational processing of information in systems that are at least minimally capable of behavior, more than mere reflexes. Information processing is based on the integration of sensory information, memory contents and the preparation of goal-directed action and comprises among other capacities perception, decision-making, memorizing, problem-solving, learning, and goal-directed action. The result of the cognitive processes is a model of oneself and the physical and social environment that is constructed, maintained and updated according to the needs of the cognizing person and the changing environment. Its functional role is to adapt to actual affordances enabling us to navigate through time, space and the social world in order to pursue and reach our goals in the most efficient way. Cognition can be, but is not necessarily linked to conscious awareness. Cognitive processes can be identified with complex spatio-temporal firing patterns of neurons in the mammalian including the human brain. To explore the natural preconditions of cognition is the task of cognitive neuroscience, both for the purpose of basic science and applied clinical research.