I want to know what is the relationship between sociology and cognitive sciences. Let me start by short consideration of both:

  1. Sociology - well established discipline or a field of research Sociology is a part of social sciences.
  2. Cognitive sciences - a bit more recent field of research. Cognitive science cannot be considered a discipline, it lacks core basics, there is bigger and less connected variety of research methods and objects. Cognitive sciences is also part of social sciences, but has stronger ties with biomedicine (neurology, pharmacology).

Sociology considers that main causes of our behavior lie outside, in the social environment. At the same time cognitive sciences look for causation within psyche/brain.

I believe that there are three ways of looking into relations:

  1. Connections between sociological and cognitive-science journals?
  2. Semantic relations like use of similar concepts and definitions?
  3. Interdisciplinary projects that include both sociology and cognitive sciences?

1 Answer 1


The primary difference is two-fold:

1) Methods : Social sciences use mostly qualitative methods and content analysis, psychology and cognitive sciences use quantitative methods and statistical analysis. The one basic standard tool in psychology and cognitive sciences is the laboratory experiment, while social sciences usually collect data in the field.

2) Object of study : Social sciences deal mostly with social entities. The smallest social entity is two people. Psychology and cognitive sciences deal with individuals or, if they deal with populations, the general characteristics of the individuals of that population. Psychology and cognitive sciences deal with social processes only from the perspective of the individual: how individual internal mental processes are affected by them.

As usual, this is a tendency, and the borders between the disciplines are blurred. There is no clear distinction and there is a huge overlap where research could fall in either discipline and is associated with one only because the researcher comes from it. Also, in academic institutions, certain parts of one discipline might have found their home in a neighboring discipline for historical reasons, e.g. pedagogical psychology is often placed in the faculty for pedagogy (a social science), but there it is just as often taught by psychologists.

I wrote "psychology and cognitive sciences", because cognitive sciences is strongly associated with psychology, but also with information sciences / computer science and neurosciences. At our university, the degree program "cognitive science" is part of both the psychological and the computer sciences department. But other universities place it elsewhere. Like neurosciences, cognitive sciences is an interdisciplinary field or, if you want, a new and evolving discipline whose realm is even less clearly defined than that of older and more traditional disciplines. Nevertheless, I understand cognitive sciences to be concerned with cognition, which is an aspect of the individual, and a traditional field of study that lies mostly within psychology and other natural sciences like medicine and biology.

In short: cognitive sciences is a natural science, while social sciences are part of the humanities, with all the methodological and theoretical implications that follow from that.

  • $\begingroup$ While I mostly agree with your answer, I don't think social sciences are part of humanities because they use quantitative methods as well. Social psychology for instance is a social science and much research there has been done experimentally (field experiments) or correlationally through psychometric tools. The use of methods such as regression is high in such kind of research in social, organisational, health, athletic and school psychology en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_psychology#Methods $\endgroup$ Sep 23, 2014 at 2:16
  • $\begingroup$ Also public policy uses quantitative research methods as well en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Policy_analysis Generally, I think that humanities are about developing a systematic analysis of human civilization and the meaning one bestows to elements of this civilization. Such a job requires only discussion and reading stuff to get richer interpretations. Empirical research is irrelevant to humanities $\endgroup$ Sep 23, 2014 at 2:26

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