Thinking and Language



Cognition, or thinking, involves processing information, learning, remembering, and deciding. Many decisions are made with heuristics, or simple, somewhat biased rules hardwired in a human brain. From an evolutionary standpoint, shortcuts for making quick decisions are necessary for human survival. Complex choices, however, require slower analytical reasoning, which cannot be carried out without language, an evolutionary advantage possessed by the human species. Several brain structures are involved in language acquisition. While not all thought requires language, it certainly shapes the way human beings think. Animals also have ways of thinking and communicating, and some species appear to have some basic language capacity.

At A Glance

  • The brain uses top-down and bottom-up processing to transform sensation into perception and classifies information using concepts and schema.
  • People can solve problems using logical stepwise processes, rules of thumb, or intuition, provided they are not sidetracked by flawed thinking.
  • The use of heuristics, or mental shortcuts, is necessary to simplify some decisions, but heuristics are often riddled with bias.
  • People apply both fast and slow thinking to problem-solving, which results in either rapid or well-thought-out decision-making.
  • Language building blocks are phonemes, morphemes, phrases, and sentences. Syntax refers to the rules specifying how words are arranged in sentences.
  • Children understand language before they can produce speech, which proceeds from babbling to the one-word stage to telegraphic speech.
  • Learning more than one language simultaneously can initially slow down language acquisition, but ultimately leads to stronger language skills.
  • Language plays a major role in shaping human thinking, but not all thought requires language.
  • Many species show evidence of concept-formation ability, numerical awareness, tool use, insight, and some language capacity.