Cognitive Science is a rapidly growing field of interdisciplinary study that focuses on the nature and representation of knowledge. It approaches the study of perception, action, language, and thinking from several perspectives—theoretical, experimental, and computational—with the aim of gaining a better understanding of human cognition and the nature of intelligent systems. The nature of mental representations and their acquisition and use are important themes, as are the comparison between human and artificial intelligence, and the relation between human cognition and its biological foundations.

Cognitive Science addresses many questions. What is the structure of knowledge? What is the nature of learning, conceptual development, and the acquisition of knowledge structures? Are mental capacities uniform and monolithic or are there specialized “modules”? What ideas and capacities are part of our very humanity, our status as a certain kind of biological organism? How deep are the differences among languages? What are the relationships between language and thought? How is it possible to share knowledge? How do minds interact with what is outside them, including not only other minds but also the physical world? Even the oldest of these questions are being approached in new ways, using tools of formal logic, techniques of computer simulation, and sophisticated experimental methods.

Among the many topics that are examined from the perspective of Cognitive Science are:

  • logic and the justification of belief
  • the nature of mind and action
  • knowledge representation
  • knowledge acquisition
  • the knowledge and use of language
  • perception
  • concepts and conceptual change
  • artificial intelligence and parallel distributed processing
  • neurobiology of cognition

Cognitive Science is a relatively new field that draws primarily from the disciplines of Computer Science, Linguistics, Philosophy, Psychology, and Neurobiology (College of Arts & Sciences) and is largely represented by faculty in these fields. It is also represented by faculty in the fields of Human Development, Design and Environmental Analysis (College of Human Ecology), Economics, Education, Information Science, Mathematics, and Sociology, as well as in the Johnson Graduate School of Management.

Application Procedures
1. Choose a faculty member from the graduate field of Cognitive Science to be a minor member representing Cognitive Science on your special committee, and to plan the content of your curriculum for the minor. If you wish to work with a professor who is not a Cog Sci field member, please contact the program manager to see about the possibility of field membership for that faculty member.

2. Obtain the permission of this faculty member and of your special committee for the addition of this minor to your program. Since Cognitive Science is a minor field at Cornell, this faculty member cannot be the chair of your special committee. Moreover, to foster your interdisciplinary development, this faculty member should normally be a member of a field other than your major field.

If this faculty member is not already a member of your special committee, submit a change of committee form to the graduate school, adding this member. On the committee form, this faculty member should list Cognitive Science as the field/subject/concentration represented.

If this faculty member is already a member of your special committee, but is currently representing another minor field, it will also be necessary to submit a change of committee form to the graduate school; in this case, one changing the field representation of this member. (In this case, you may or may not want to make other committee changes. This decision is best made in consultation with your chair, as well as other special committee members.)

Structure of the Minor
The goal of the Cognitive Science graduate minor is to provide students with guidance in setting up and carrying out an integrated program of interdisciplinary study in conjunction with their major field. A sound program must give students more than a superficial exposure to the goals and methodologies of other disciplines. Obviously, it would be difficult for any one individual to acquire substantial expertise in all areas. A program in Cognitive Science must therefore be based upon sound training in one discipline, coupled with an informed appreciation of relevant ideas and tools selected from other disciplines.

The graduate minor in Cognitive Science is open to all students who have elected a major field within which the minor can be appropriately included. Interested students should inform themselves regarding the program’s general offerings and consult with their committee chair about the selection of their committee. A minor member should be chosen from the faculty in the graduate field of Cognitive Science. The minor member representing Cognitive Science should be a member of a field other than the student’s major field, to avoid duplication that would make the task of interdisciplinary integration more difficult. Students then consult with all the members of their special committee to set up a program that develops the Cognitive Science minor field, in conjunction with a strong core of study in their major field.

All cognitive science graduate minor students must take two 6,000-level courses: some 4,000-level courses will be allowed with the approval of your minor committee member. One course should be taught outside your discipline (in another cog sci affiliated department); one may be within your discipline/home department. Only one of these courses may be taught by your advisor. The two-course requirement will be in effect for all new cognitive science minors, starting fall semester 2017. The same requirement applies to students who were admitted to the minor in the 2016-17 academic year. Those admitted in 2015-16 will be required to take only one course. Students who were admitted in and before the 2014-15 academic year will be exempt from this requirement.

While a student’s thesis research may normally be focused in one discipline, it is expected that it will reflect the concerns or perspectives of another discipline, either in a thoroughly integrated fashion or by the inclusion of appropriate chapters or sections.

The field of Cognitive Science sponsors a variety of colloquia throughout the academic year. Students in the minor are required to attend these events and to avail themselves of the opportunity to meet with the speakers for informal discussion during their visits in order to remain in good standing as a graduate minor and thus eligible for travel grants, etc. To receive notices regarding guest speakers and other events, be sure your address is on file with Julie Simmons-Lynch, program manager (607-255-6431,, 278A Uris Hall).