The Human Cognition Project

The Human Cognition Project

by Susan Huebert
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Every day, you use your brain in many different ways. You use it to learn new material at school, to talk with your friends, and even to blink your eyes. Right now you’re using it to read and understand the words of this article. Scientists know that the brain controls the rest of the body, but there are still many mysteries about exactly how it works. How do people really think? Why do their brain functions change as they get older? Researchers working with the Human Cognition Project hope to find answers to questions of human thought.

The word “cognition” usually refers to the process of thought, including how people get information and what they do with it. Cognition can be conscious, like when you talk with your friends and think about the words everyone is saying. It can also be unconscious, like when you quickly pull your hand away from a hot stove.

People’s ability to think and process information changes throughout their lives. Young children have to learn the connection between touching hot stoves and burning their fingers, but most people can make connections like these without consciously thinking about them. They learn how to behave in different social situations and begin to develop their own ideas about the world and how it works.

Cognition changes throughout people’s lives. Accidents, illnesses, stress, or getting older can often affect the brain. Everyone has occasional memory lapses and problems with understanding difficult ideas, but some people have more troubles than others. Some cognition problems are minor and cause few lasting troubles, such as when you forget to do your homework and have to hand it in late. Other problems can be much more serious, such as when people forget their own names and addresses. They could become lost or get into all kinds of other trouble.

The purpose of the Human Cognition Project is to find out more about what happens when the brain is not working as well as it could. Seven projects are part of the research, covering topics like the connection between what people see and what they remember. Another topic is how this connection relates to witnesses of crimes. Helping people to remember events more accurately could be an important result of the work in this area.

How people’s brains change as they age is another important part of the Human Cognition Project. When people get older, they often lose their memories or develop other problems with thinking clearly. These problems are often called dementia, and they are an important part of the Human Cognition Project. If scientists could understand exactly why the brain loses so many of its abilities as it ages, they might be able to find a cure for the mental troubles of old age.

Will all of this study of cognition help people with problems like memory loss or other loss of brain function? It might not provide a cure, but it can at least provide a basis for future research into the human brain.

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