I've been trying to get to a specific definition of a cognitive mechanism, but googling it surprisingly didn't give me anything. The only things I've found out are :

  1. How to know if something can be considered a cognitive mechanism : https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/ajp.155.12.1677
  2. I've come across examples like dissociation, planning fallacy(wrt entrepreneurship) etc.

They sounded more like cognitive processes, but I'd like a clearer definition of it. I also wanted to know when do we think about cognitive mechanisms vs behavioural mechanisms.

Would really appreciate the clarity!

Edit : I first found the term in the paper mentioned in point 1.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You might find some attempts or textbook examples of someone's definition, but I don't think you will find any agreed upon or authoritative one. Why do you need such a definition? What will you do with it? $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Aug 5 '21 at 3:53
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I agree with @BryanKrause, there is probably no exact definition; mechanism is used interchangeably with process, model, function, faculty, capacity, etc. The difference between cognitive and behavioural is clearer: Cognitive has to do with the inner workings of the brain/mind, while behaviour is external to that. $\endgroup$
    – Arnon Weinberg
    Aug 5 '21 at 4:29
  • $\begingroup$ This question presupposes a definition. There simply is no such definition. Cognition is indefinite. The mere fact that there are various attempts (attemots only, let alone a worked out one) proves this. -1 $\endgroup$ Aug 6 '21 at 6:15
  • $\begingroup$ @BryanKrause I came across this term through this paper : ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/… have mentioned it in my question). They were describing about what makes something a cognitive mechanism, but it wasn't clear on how your search for such mechanisms. I don't really have any knowledge in this field, so apologies if it doesn't make sense. $\endgroup$ Aug 8 '21 at 22:43
  • $\begingroup$ @SistlaMeenakshi They're just using the English-language meaning of "mechanism" with the adjective "cognitive" modifying "mechanism". $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Aug 8 '21 at 23:05

Cognitive mechanisms involve ways people receive information, and the way people think about, interpret, evaluate and therefore act upon that information received.

From Heinström (2010):

The way a message is presented, and particularly how it is emotionally framed, influences the way people interpret, evaluate and act upon it. This cognitive mechanism is utilized in things like advertising and political campaigns.

The paper is saying that advertising and political campaigns aim use these mechanisms to their benefit.

Sometimes, there can be more than one cognitive mechanism in play. It is not necessarily just a way information is presented, which is one mechanism, but it can apply to information gained from experience (another mechanism) and/or elsewhere such as school or therapy (other mechanisms).

map of a brain processing information Cognitive mechanism of the brain during the decision making and learning process — Source: Zhou, et al. (2020).

During political campaigns, potential election candidates may use leverage techniques. For example, they may use collective and/or individual viewpoints and interpretations of past events gleaned from lobby groups etc. to get their message across.

Before, and during the campaign, the lobby groups may use the same sort of cognitive mechanism in similar formats to their advantage.

The information received during cognitive mechanisms can be via messages in marketing campaigns, from news reports, experience of certain situations etc.

Experience (or even lack of experience) of certain groups of people can influence behaviour toward those particular groups, especially when hearing negative and disparaging remarks about them.

On top of that, with information gained through experience (e.g. traumatic experiences), these mechanisms can be congruent or incongruent with the reality of the situation.

These and more are what are studied when looking at, say, cognitive mechanisms of treatment in depression (Roiser, et al. 2012) and cognitive mechanisms underlying the creative process (Gabora, 2002) as examples.

You said

They sounded more like cognitive processes

A mechanism is part of a process just as any dictionary would define as, for example,

In a machine or piece of equipment, a mechanism is a part, often consisting of a set of smaller parts, which performs a particular function.

When you take all the cognitive mechanisms together, you will then be able to form the cognitive process(es) involved in forming memories, thoughts and ideas.


Gabora, L. (2002). Cognitive mechanisms underlying the creative process. In Proceedings of the 4th conference on Creativity & cognition (pp. 126-133). https://doi.org/10.1145/581710.581730

Heinström, J. (2010). Negative affectivity—The emotional dimension. In From Fear to Flow: Personality and Information Interaction; Chandos: Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 75-103.

Roiser, J. P., Elliott, R., & Sahakian, B. J. (2012). Cognitive mechanisms of treatment in depression. Neuropsychopharmacology, 37(1), 117-136. https://doi.org/10.1038/npp.2011.183

Zhou, K., Wei, R., Zhang, Q., & Xu, Z. (2020). Learning system for air combat decision inspired by cognitive mechanisms of the Brain. IEEE Access, 8, 8129-8144. https://doi.org/10.1109/ACCESS.2020.2964031


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