Introduction to Thinking and Problem-Solving

What you’ll learn to do: describe cognition and problem-solving strategies

A man sitting down in "The Thinker" pose.

Imagine all of your thoughts as if they were physical entities, swirling rapidly inside your mind. How is it possible that the brain is able to move from one thought to the next in an organized, orderly fashion? The brain is endlessly perceiving, processing, planning, organizing, and remembering—it is always active. Yet, you don’t notice most of your brain’s activity as you move throughout your daily routine. This is only one facet of the complex processes involved in cognition. Simply put, cognition is thinking, and it encompasses the processes associated with perception, knowledge, problem solving, judgment, language, and memory. Scientists who study cognition are searching for ways to understand how we integrate, organize, and utilize our conscious cognitive experiences without being aware of all of the unconscious work that our brains are doing (for example, Kahneman, 2011).

Learning Objectives

  • Distinguish between concepts and prototypes
  • Explain the difference between natural and artificial concepts
  • Describe problem solving strategies, including algorithms and heuristics
  • Explain some common roadblocks to effective problem solving


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