While many theories in cognitive science rely on the concept of a "belief" I do not see much on the definition of a belief or how it compares to other mental states. What is a belief, and how does it compare to things like opinions?

  • $\begingroup$ Can you point to some times you see the reliance on a "belief" in cognitive science? $\endgroup$ Jun 29, 2016 at 4:56
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    $\begingroup$ I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it seems more about general semantics than scientific terminology. English SE would be a better place to start imo. $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    Jun 29, 2016 at 7:40
  • $\begingroup$ Not at all. I am not looking for some opinion on the matter. I am looking for theory from cognitive science. You do recognize that cognitive science relies on the concept of a "belief" quite a bit, yes? How can you reject the question of how to define it, or at least recognize it? $\endgroup$ Jun 29, 2016 at 11:29
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    $\begingroup$ The differentiation between mental states that refer to the world, and their contents, as well as more general aspects of that relation, e.g. propositional attitudes, are subject to philosophy of mind and by many but not all cognitive scientists considered an important part of CS. I think that technically this is the place to ask but you might have better luck over at the Philosophy SE. $\endgroup$
    – huh
    Jun 29, 2016 at 19:19
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    $\begingroup$ I'll wait a bit longer, and if I don't find a better response, I'll delete/close this question and ask over at philosophy. $\endgroup$ Jun 30, 2016 at 3:00

1 Answer 1


Edit: This article from the Guardian reviews research into what forms and influences belief, gives some make up of what a belief is, but I could not find a, and separate, scientific defintion.

A opinion is a judgement based on facts while a belief is a conviction based on personal values.

 An opinion is a judgment based on facts, an honest attempt to draw a reasonable conclusion from factual evidence. (For example, we know that millions of people go without proper medical care, and so you form the opinion that the country should institute national health insurance even though it would cost billions of dollars.) An opinion is potentially changeable--depending on how the evidence is interpreted. By themselves, opinions have little power to convince. You must always let your reader know what your evidence is and how it led you to arrive at your opinion.

Unlike an opinion, a belief is a conviction based on cultural or personal faith, morality, or values. Statements such as "Capital punishment is legalized murder" are often called "opinions" because they express viewpoints, but they are not based on facts or other evidence. They cannot be disproved or even contested in a rational or logical manner. Since beliefs are inarguable, they cannot serve as the thesis of a formal argument. 

Colorado State University

  • $\begingroup$ So "chocolate ice cream is better than vanilla" is really a belief, not an opinion. Is the definition of "belief" addressed in any cognitive science text? $\endgroup$ Jun 29, 2016 at 11:30
  • $\begingroup$ I don't imagine there would be a need to define it. The term is used universally. And it's fairly unscientific itself. $\endgroup$ Jun 29, 2016 at 15:36
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not a fan of vaguely defined terms. With the advent of fMRI, we have a great deal of ability to look at cognitive states. And differences in knowledge systems, belief systems, the transience of positions of truth, the influence of external stimuli, etc are all very important. Maybe there's a way to avoid it. I'll keep looking. Thanks. $\endgroup$ Jun 29, 2016 at 17:48
  • $\begingroup$ I believe your the only person who finds the term vague. There is no need for cognitive science to define a term that is already defined and used in English language. Beyond that, you could argue that the lack of a definition in a field so focused on defining human s points to the fact that the general use of the word IS the definition. I wish you luck. $\endgroup$ Jun 29, 2016 at 17:56
  • $\begingroup$ @DanielGoldman, "I prefer chocolate to vanilla" is a statement of fact: everyone accepts as truth that chocolate is your preference. That you prefer chocolate is an opinion: you are describing something about yourself, not about the ice-cream. But saying "chocolate ice cream is better than vanilla" is a belief: you are claiming that there are objective factors that make chocolate fundamentally better, and that other people are wrong to think otherwise. Compare with "Many people believe God exists." (fact), "I think God exists." (opinion), and "God exists." (belief). $\endgroup$ Oct 23, 2021 at 13:33

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