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What Is Cognitive Science in the Cybersecurity Realm?


What Is Cognitive Science?

Cognitive science is an investigatory discipline that explores intelligence and the human mind. This cognitive science definition comes from the term "cognition," which refers to using various types of thinking, such as decision-making, emotions, language, learning, perception, and problem-solving. Cognitive science encompasses a wide range of approaches, disciplines, and methodologies that include artificial intelligence (AI), anthropology, computer science, linguistics, neuroscience, philosophy, and psychology.

The combination of these disciplines makes cognitive science crucial to studying how the human mind behaves and functions. It plays a vital role in understanding human behavior and intelligence, which is central to developing new educational programs and smarter technology.

Early Developments in the Cognitive Science Arena

Humans have been attempting to understand the human mind all the way back to the days of ancient Greece and scholars like Aristotle and Plato. Philosophers like David Hume and John Locke tried to map mental operations in the 17th and 18th centuries but were hindered by a lack of methods and ideas. 

More rigorous methods were developed in the mid-19th century through German physiologist Wilhelm Wundt. In the 1920s and 1930s, social sciences research focused on behaviorism, which established laws that governed observable human behavior.

A significant breakthrough came in the 1950s, when great minds like Marvin Minsky, John McCarthy, Allen Newell, and Herbert Simon pioneered the field of AI. These efforts were assisted by the likes of psychologist George Miller and linguist Noam Chomsky. They developed new computational alternatives to existing theories, which saw these six figures become the founders of cognitive science.

Scope of Cognitive Science

The cognitive science discipline has been shaped by scopes from various fields of study, including:

künstliche Intelligenz

The initial aim of AI’s founders was to build computers that performed tasks previously only associated with human intelligence. The discipline now involves using computers or computer-controlled robots to accomplish tasks and systems that contain intellectual processes characteristic of humans, such as learning, meaning, and reason.


Attention refers to the cognitive process of only concentrating on one subject while ignoring other distractions. It is one of the most heavily studied subjects within cognitive neuroscience and psychology.

Knowledge and Language Processing

Knowledge, also known as epistemology, is the study of the limits, origin, and nature of human knowledge. It dates back to the ancient Greeks and is one of the four core philosophy studies, along with ethics, logic, and metaphysics. Knowledge primarily focuses on understanding the world and the human obsession with making sense of the world we live in. 

Language processing builds on this by focusing on how humans comprehend, produce, and understand meaningful sentences.

Learning and Development

Learning is the ability of an individual to alter their behavior through experience. It has long been studied by scientists and encompasses a wide range of methodologies, from problem-solving and habituation to association, discrimination, imitation, insight, and perceptual learning.


Memory is a cognitive process that enables individuals to understand, store, and retrieve information. It is a critical part of the learning process, as it allows people to retain the knowledge of things they have seen, heard, and experienced.


Perception is the process of humans turning sensory stimulation into an experience to form an opinion of various subjects. However, perception itself cannot be observed publicly but only by the individual. Some scholars have argued that perception relies on individual properties of the brain with assistance from learning and development.


Consciousness refers to the human mind’s subjective experience and the feelings people get from their perception of the world around them. The term is commonly defined as being awake and noticing the existence of something. But from a neuroscience perspective, the meaning shifts toward the brain being active, which considers further states like alertness, dreaming, and wakefulness.

Relevance and Importance of Cognitive Science

Cognitive science has proven crucial to developing theories that explain evidence around linguistic, neurological, and psychological approaches. As a result, the study of cognitive science is essential to guiding fields like education, engineering, human resources management, medical reasoning, the analysis of diseases and mental illnesses, and operations research. 

Computer science and philosophy have played significant roles in the development of cognitive science. Philosophy asks general questions around ethics, knowledge, and reality, while computer science has made it possible to solve complex problems and test scientific hypotheses.

Theories of Cognitive Science

The development of cognitive science has been shaped by various theories and approaches. These include:


Vast amounts of human knowledge have been developed through rules and rule-based systems. For example, mental rules are responsible for shaping people's behavior. These rules have been necessary to improve learning and develop new intelligent machine systems.

Formal Logic

Formal logic plays a central role in exploring how people compute knowledge and infer their understanding and beliefs. 


Analogies also play a crucial role in human thinking and behavior, from decision-making and problem-solving to communication, explanation, and linguistics. Analogical thinking has proven vital in cognitive science applications like education and design.


Images and visuals can help people capture information more effectively than lengthy verbal descriptions. People can conjure visual images that help them learn and shape their behavior. Image theories also relate to other senses like balance, emotion, hearing, pain, smell, touch, and taste.


Concept theories relate to the mental representations that shape people's behavior. People have a set of procedures for shaping concepts, such as activation, inheritance, and matching, enabling them to establish themselves as part of a hierarchy within business, groups, and society.


Connectionism is crucial to understanding behavior and psychological processes. It takes into account factors like decision-making, explanation, meaning, language comprehension, and vision.

Bayesian Models

Bayesian models focus on psychological phenomena like language, learning, motor control, social cognition, and vision. It links cognition to the probability theory and explores the human mind’s capacity for statistical correlations, probabilistic computations, and mental tasks like inference. 

Theory-based Neuroscience

Theoretical neuroscience develops computational theories and mathematical models of the structure and process of the brain. It aims to provide biologically accurate insight into how the brain functions and how neural activity carries out cognitive tasks. Theory-based neuroscience has simulated interactions from different areas of the brain, such as the cortex and hippocampus.

Deep Learning

Deep learning is an AI model that builds on connectionism and theoretical neuroscience combined with improved algorithms, faster computers, and more extensive data samples. Its findings are guiding cognitive psychology and contributing to the development of smarter machines.

Cognitive Science Research Methods

Cognitive science has been widely studied through various methods of research, the most prominent including:

Behavioral Experimental Studies

Measuring behavior is an important first step in understanding how humans process information. This research method typically covers behavioral choices, observations, and traces. Other contributing factors include measuring eye tracking, language processing, and psychophysical responses, such as judging colors, textures, tones, and reaction times.

Brain Imaging

Brain imaging is the process of analyzing brain activity while performing other tasks. This research is common in cognitive neuroscience to assess behavior and brain functions.

Neurobiological Methods

Neurobiological research helps to understand different aspects of intelligence and the implementation of intelligent behavior. Approaches include using animal models, direct brain stimulation, and postmortem studies.

Application of Cognitive Science in Cybersecurity

The theories outlined above have also been applied to cognitive science cybersecurity, including focuses like:

Role of Psychology in Cybersecurity

Factors like biometrics and behavioral analytics are increasingly critical in cybersecurity. As such, psychology’s focus on human behavior is vital to understanding cyber criminals, developing insider threat profiles, and shaping user education.

Role of Anthropology in Cybersecurity

Anthropology involves analyzing and solving practical problems and how humans share knowledge. This insight is vital to helping organizations enhance their cybersecurity levels by keeping users safe online and improving the general cybersecurity culture.

Applying Artificial Intelligence in Cybersecurity

AI aims to increase autonomous learning and reasoning through factors like linguistics, machine vision, and reason. In cybersecurity, AI can help automatically discover, block, and mitigate threats, but the industry debates whether its usage is safe.

Applying Linguistics in Cybersecurity

Linguistics in cybersecurity helps organizations understand behavioral context. This is useful for classifying documents, understanding where private data is located on a network, identifying potential security risks, and spotting regulatory violations.

Role of Neuroscience in Cybersecurity

Neuroscience significantly impacts processes like computational modeling, information processing, network design, and sensor development. Ongoing developments continue to enhance innovation into cybersecurity tools and technology. 

Cognitive Science vs. Neuroscience: Key Differences

Cognitive science and neuroscience have very different focuses.

  1. Cognitive science explores how the human mind processes experiences and information. 
  2. Neuroscience involves studying the brain’s activity and functionality at the neuron level. 

To put this in a computing context, a cognitive scientist would examine the performance of the software. A neuroscientist, on the other hand, would investigate the central processing unit to look for issues in the machine’s brain.

How Fortinet Can Help

The Fortinet comprehensive range of security solutions benefits from theories developed by cognitive science. This includes AI-driven security operations in the Fortinet Management Center SOC, which helps organizations keep pace with sophisticated cyber threats. In addition, FortiAI is the industry’s most sophisticated AI solution, which allows organizations to stay one step ahead of cyber criminals through real-time threat alerts and responses.