Cognition, or thinking, involves mental activities such as understanding, problem solving, and decision making. Cognition also makes creativity possible.

The Building Blocks of Cognition

When humans think, they manipulate mental representations of objects, actions, events, and ideas. Humans commonly use mental representations such as concepts, prototypes, and cognitive schemas.


A concept is a mental category that groups similar objects, events, qualities, or actions. Concepts summarize information, enabling humans to think quickly.

Example: The concept “fish” includes specific creatures, such as an eel, a goldfish, a shark, and a flying fish.


A prototype is a typical example of a concept. Humans use prototypes to decide whether a particular instance of something belongs to a concept.

Example: Goldfish and eels are both fish, but most people will agree that a goldfish is a fish more quickly than they will agree that an eel is a fish. A goldfish fits the “fish” prototype better than an eel does.

Cognitive Schemas

Cognitive schemas are mental models of different aspects of the world. They contain knowledge, beliefs, assumptions, associations, and expectations.

Example: People may have a schema about New York that includes information they’ve learned about New York in school, their memories of New York, things people have told them about New York, information from movies and books about New York, what they assume to be true about New York, and so on.

Popular pages: Language and Cognition