Cognitive Processing of Meaning and Language/ Meaning Representation

The cognitive process

The cognitive processes can be defined as the performance of a cognitive activity or a processing and movement that affects the mental contents of a person such as the process of thinking or the cognitive operation of remembering something (Willingham, 2007). Mostly, cognition is a word used by psychologists to describe the process of acquiring and comprehending knowledge through senses, experiences, and thoughts. Learning is the acquisition of knowledge through teaching, study and/or experience. These two concepts are to a great extent similar since learning depends on cognition and cognition results to learning. In identifying new things, the cognitive process takes place, and as a result, a learning process takes place. 

The cognitive process involves performing cognitive activities that have an effect on the content of the mind of an individual such as thinking or recalling activities. The cognitive process was developed as a theory by Carl Jung and has been widely used in the study of mind psychology. The theory focused on how people acquire and process information to come up with decisions based context and mind capacity.


Although language is complicated to define, it is necessary to understand how communication takes place in human beings and animals. Psychologists describe language as a means of communication and as a complex process that is integrated with human thoughts. Language is, therefore, a mean of communicating human thoughts. Cognitive psychology deals with brain processes, such as thinking, perceiving, believing, reasoning, and learning, decision making, speaking, and remembering. This definition of cognitive psychology shows that language affects cognitive processes. This, therefore, implies that what is learned and interpreted through language is the entire cognitive process. The cognitive process separates animals from human beings. Among the characteristics of language are that language is dynamic, generative, structured, arbitrary, and communicative.

There are several key features of language that allow it to be dynamic, generative, structured, arbitrary, and communicative. First, language ensures that communication takes place between individuals. Secondly, language is arbitrary (Willingham, 2007). According to Willingham (2007), there exists an absolute relationship between language elements and their meaning. Arbitrariness is a major feature of symbols. The language structure implies that the pattern of symbols is non-arbitrary. Language structure is to a great extent complex. Language is generative since an individual can give different meanings from words used by a language. The meanings are limitless from a single basic unit of language. According to Willingham (2007), language keeps of changing and it is, therefore, dynamic and not static. Language has a critical feature in cognitive processing and meaning.

Meaning Representation

Meaning representation is the representation of language semantically where the meaning of many English sentences is written down. Human beings possess a brain dictionary known as the lexicon. The lexicon contains several word representations such as spellings, punctuation, and part of speech for various words. A lexicon allows one to understand the spoken words by matching them with their stored meaning. Words are, therefore, recognized by individuals, by matching them with the lexicon. Lexicon has a key role in language as it allows individuals to used language.

There are features of language that helps in the meaning presentation. Its development is special and children understand it separately from acquiring any other skill. In the entire world, the language is consistently learned. The brain is always prepared to learn the language. The stages of development of language are identical in children globally. This supports the fact that language learning process is everywhere. In the cognitive process of learning language, children tend to make similar errors. For example, children tend to over-extend and overregulate language. Children tend to use one word that they know to refer to many things when their vocabularies are limited. Children also apply the rule of linguistic to words that are an exception even when it is not applicable. The complexity of language gives it unique features that allow it special. Language is human since it can communicate, arbitrate, change, and generate. Apart from human beings, other animals are only communicative.

Language affects human thought by influencing and determining it. It is difficult to have thought without language. Words said by an individual lead to different thoughts in mind. This means that what one says is influenced by his thoughts and what one thinks influences what one says. The two aspects of the cognitive process are therefore intertwined.

Language structure influences the cognitive meaning processing and presentation. The smallest language units or sounds are phonemes. These are one’s sounds of speech that are in general equal to the letters of the alphabet. Although more than 200 phenomes are existing in the world, only 46 phonemes are applied in English. According to Willingham (2007), human beings can generate phonemes at high speed of 50 phonemes in one second. Different learners produce phonemes differently and hence making their perception difficult. Individual speakers also conceive varying phonemes.

Words are a critical feature of any text presentation. They allow individuals to make understand spoken phonemes using their perceptual systems. Willingham (2007), “the 46 English phonemes are combined in different ways produce all of the approximately 600, 000 words in the English language” (p.414). There are rules put in place to be followed while combining phonemes and where they may be used in a word. When words are arranged together, they form a sentence. This sentence allows the learner to construct thoughts in writing or speaking. Willingham noted that a sentence helps an individual to know the necessary phonemes that might be missing. The correct word construction may be affected by order of phonemes, and the order of arrangement of words is critical in making a grammatically correct sentence.

Meaning presentation is both linguistic and cognitive. Although semantics are also cognitive, the analysis put more focus on meaning that is cognitive. This means that the meaning of words and sentences is not the main focus, but one need to focus on text properties and information that can only be cognitively accounted for.

Text Representation

A text is a combination of sentences to make a paragraph or paragraphs. The paragraphs should have one message or subject. The texts need to have a connection that is logical and hence passing an idea or message. Researcher has found that video and picture presentations lead to visualization abilities, but text presentation is related to verbal processing.  In the cognitive processing of language, phonemes, words and sentences that make texts and paragraphs are critical. Text presentation prays vital role in cognitive psychology. Mental processes are studied in cognitive psychology. The processes involve reasoning, learning, decision making, speaking, remembering, solving problems, thinking, and perceiving. Mental processes allow an individual to understand the text and how it functions. It is important to know how structure function to understand phonemes, words, sentences, and texts. This text representation makes language possible. Language processing in cognitive psychology helps text presentation. In general text, the presentation is dependent on language in addition to the internal and external environment of the instructor and the audiences. An individual can understand sentences and comprehend texts. What is learned and interpreted using language is the cognitive process. Language differentiates and separates humans from other animals. A lexicon is a human mind dictionary that stores known words. It does not have word meaning, but it has word punctuation and spelling. Word is a key aspect of cognitive psychology.

Language, as seen above, is an important semiotic too that leads to the process of text presentation. Language in the form of phonemes, word, sentence, and text are used in social interaction to offer important cognitive processes. When language is used in given occasion by individuals, it has some cognitive consequences. In the process of text presentation, both the speaker and the recipient must coordinate to understand each other using their language and their method need to be collaborative. When an individual alters some words, there are some social systems cognitive processes that the speaker engages (Levelt 1989). To begin with, the speaker creates a representation that is linguistically coded from a coded presentation from a source that is not linguistic. In linguistic part of the presentation, it constitutes a language-based conceptual entity. The other representation is non-conceptual, and they are not language based. The process leads to conversion of implicit attitude into an implicit attitude. According to Gawronski and Bodenhausen (2006), the processes are as a result of propositional and associative methods influenced by diverse principles. Language use affects an individual thought and finally leads to collective representation. 

Language leads to cognitive processing of meaning and hence decision making. It is through language that people can explicate why they made certain decisions. When a message is heard, the recipient uses semantic knowledge to interpret the message. Semantics is the meaning of words, which is stored in the brain dictionary. The recipient makes a mental representation of events and objects that have been mentioned in the utterance. This is critical, but there are factors that will always affect the constructed representation by the recipient. Mental representation is affected by language use, sense, and trivial. The work of language in prejudice like referring ‘gays as a fag’, influence interpretation of the recipient (Carnaghi & Maass, in press; Greenberg and Pyszczynski, 1985; Kirkland, Greenberg & Pyszczynsky, 1987; Simon & Greenberg, 1996). It was traditionally allowed for an individual to use words such as men and his to refer to people in general. The recipients, however, perceived the as males. It was also noted that first names such as John and Joan create impressions that are always non-intentional.

The meaning of the verb is another subtle semantic language aspect. Different verbs have the different implication of effects. This challenge was noted in war literature in the 1970s.  (Abelson & Kanouse, 1966; Garvey & Caramazza, 1974; Kanouse, 1972; McArthur, 1972). Implicit causality is a term that was adopted to mean verbs that are interpersonal and with an implication of a particular casual meaning and focus.  Meaning depends on syntactic properties. The recipient is motivated to construct different representations in mind and hence resulting in consequences that are not intended.

Different linguistic categories play a vital role in the recipient construction of meaning. Verbs and adjectives play a critical role construction of meaning by an individual. Their scheme has action verbs and state verbs. Examples of action verbs are amaze, anger, and state verbs include like and hate. Action verbs can either be descriptive or interpretive verbs. The categories have differences in abstractness in linguistic.  Linguistic abstraction contributes to a great extent in the perception of the society when behavior is described by the speaker in terms that are more abstract; the recipients make more abstract representations. As a result, differences in linguistic abstractness can result in the development of meaning and stereotypes about the society.

The cognitive process of text presentation may have a significant effect on processing of meaning through alteration of the recipient’s mental representation. It is important to note that language processing and implications go beyond personal cognition of the speaker and the recipient. When you give a story, the message conveyed is dependent on how the story is told and expressed and how the audience conceives the story. The audience influences the flow of the story by the way they internally construct and represent. The story telling session is not just telling the story. The speaker and the audience must be in an interactive mood and atmosphere. Talks are always constructed by both the speaker and the audience. In our social life, for example, social judgments are altered in the conversation process, and the judgment is the result of the entire collaborative process.

Individuals are asked their views and whether they perceive the action will to happen. The method of asking questions by the speaker may affect the way his text is interpreted and the meaning given to it by the respondents. Some respondents give meaning depending on their knowledge of the matter. This may not be the true meaning of the phrase of text (Slugoski, Lalljee, Lamb, & Ginsburg, 1993). Individuals tend to put their focus on knowing the causes of which the respondent not likely to know. Also, stereotypes are likely to be conveyed by people. The speaker may intentionally give consistent information if they note that the respondent does not have particular information about the issue.

The judgment or rather the given meaning of the spoken text is not as a result of cognitive, interpersonal processes. The result is induced from the interaction between the process and other pragmatic principles that are important for communication and processing of meaning. The collaborative activity has some effects such as the construction of collective representation between the speaker and the recipient (Y. Kashima et al., 2007). The representation in the mind of participants is held by personal users of language engaged in the communication process. The result represents the content of understanding that is mutual between the speaker and the respondent or the audience. Those identified with mutual understanding have a common identity, name, and representation. There is also the likelihood of believe in the result or conceived meaning by the involved parties (C. D. Hardin & Conley, 2001; C. D. Hardin & Higgins, 1996).

There is also a social cognitive effect of using language to process the meaning of the text in any text representation. The speakers contradict their text represents a social cognitive consequence. The text interpretation depends on the language. The effect if language depends significantly on the trust of the speaker to the audience. The text or the speaker should lead the audience in establishing a common understanding of the audience.

Intergroup stereotype gives a very clear illustration of the effect of the use of language to judge the meaning of text or words spoken. The speaker must choose words wisely while communicating stereotypes about stereotypes. Words and phrases used must be chosen to bring about a common understanding between the speaker and the recipient. The words chosen have a great influence on stereotype interactants. Choice of linguistic is critical in perpetuating stereotypes of intergroup. This situation is known as linguistic intergroup bias (LIB). It generally refers to the tendency to use differing levels of abstraction when giving meaning to actions that are either positive or negative (Fiedler, Semin, & Finkenauer, 1993; Maass, 1999; Maass & Arcuri, 1996; Maass, Milesi, Zabbini, & Stahlberg, 1995; Maass et al., 1989).

How people get knowledge is not all about his mind but also about those around him. Both the language and the way the language is presented to the mind determine what the mind conceives, and the judgment made about it. The scientist can assess how a person perceives his environment, the instructor, and the level of understanding of the individual. Understanding language is similar. In the study of reasoning, perceiving and learning, language presented is a great determiner of the meaning given to the text. Mental ability of individuals is at different levels, and the factors determining the processing of meaning of the text must be put into consideration. In general, language processing plays a great role in the cognitive processing of meaning.

The psychology of memory and comprehension

Short term memory

This is the active or basic memory that stores current information. It is brief and limited as it can only hold few items at the same time. Information can only be kept in the short-term memory for a short time, an approximate duration of 20 to 30 seconds. The duration can, however, be improved by paying more attention which allows the information to move to the long-term memory. The capacity of short-term memory differs with individuals.

Working memory

Working memory is used interchangeably with short-term memory. The two are however distinct and should be applied differently. Working memory is generally the processes and methods used to store, organize, and change information temporarily. Short-term memory only store information temporarily.

Long-term memory

Long-term memory is distinguished from short-term memory the storage capacity and time of storage. Long-term memory has an unlimited storage capacity while the short-term memory has a limited capacity. Short-term memories are always retained in the long-term memories as the storage in short-term memory is limited. Chunking can be used to transfer short-term memory to long-term memory where information is arranged in small portions. Another technique of transferring short-term memory to long-term memory is by rehearsal like when one is preparing for an exam. This needs one to go through the information many times.

In the process of comprehension, memory is used as when incoming information has some connection with the experience of knowledge. Memory comes into play when the brine attempts to construct an understanding of the information. When the recipient constructs a memory representation, he or she uses as a reference in interpreting current and future encounters. This shows that there is a continuous interaction between memory and comprehension. The interactions have an effect on memory for media events where one need to remember whether some knowledge came from the real life of watching a movie, and view of the world based on the input of the media.

In the process of cognitive learning, the learner goes through a series of steps. Attention is the first step. For learning to begin, the learner must be attentive to their first experience. In class, full of learners, attention is not unlimited and sometimes it is fleeting. According to education psychologists a person with an average capacity can hold two-to-three scholarly activities at the same time. If the task is complex, an average person can handle each at a time.

The next step is to store the acquired information in the storage memory. For information to be learned, it goes through three storage levels. When information is uttered to the audience, the information is first stored in the sensory register. This type of memory can store information encountered for few seconds. If the recipient is more attentive and reads the sentence again, the information will be conceived to the short-term memory. At this level, information can be stored for as long as one minute. If more attention is given to the same information, by rereading, taking notes, and repeating it to you, the information is now likely to move to the long-term memory. In this level of storage, information is stored indefinitely. The capacity of the memory at this level is also unlimited. However, the learner will also have a challenge in finding the stored information there.

When an individual pays attention and stores information in the long-term memory, the brain then organizes the stored information so the learner can retrieve it later. The information is stored and organized in a process known as encoding. Encoding involves several steps such as assigning specific meaning to the information stored or something learned. Retrieval is the opposite of encoding where the whole process is reversed.

When discussing cognitive processing of language and meaning, it is important to mention the two main theories of cognitive learning. Jean Piaget is one of the theorists who believed that knowledge is built step by step. According to Piaget, children acquire knowledge through the daily encounter with new information which allows them to make new a schema. For example, if a child meets a cut for the first time, and happen to have a dog, they are likely to say that the cat is a dog since they have a constructed schema of a dog in their mind which is close to a dog.

Contribution of Memory to Comprehension

The traditional view of memory was that memory moves in a linear fashion. It was perceived that information moved from one storage memory to the next starting from the sensory memory, the moves to the working memory, and then to the long-term memory. (Atkinson & Shiffrin, 1968). Other views have shown that long-term memory is used while encoding both old and new information that have some relations. Cowan, (1995), found that long-term memory is used constructing a temporary representation in working memory. According to some theorists, working memory is a portion of long-term memory that is temporary active. (Anderson & Lebiere, 1998; Shiffrin & Schneider, 1977). In such as case, a stimulus X enters sensory memory and the brained matches his stimuli with a long-term memory representation, and as a result, a temporary mental representation of stimulus X is formed in the working memory. The working memory retains stimulus X, and a stimulus Y is formed and encoded in the sensory memory. Stimulus X and Y can be connected to form a new link that can be recorded and kept in a different long-term memory (Cowan 1995). As a part of activated long-term memory, the working memory supports a flow of processing information: new information enters sensory memory; it is interpreted by linking it to the long-term memory, this interpretation, and then stored temporarily in the working memory. In the working memory, the information can generate new connections. The newly formed associations are finally kept in the long-term memory.

This process proves that long-term memory has a critical role in processing meaning of incoming information. Long -term memory plays a basic role in the comprehension of text information. When applied to events on the media, it means that past media experience affect how one interprets current events on the media. Taking an example of a person who has watched horror movies involving a victim killed by someone hiding under the bed, the audience watching another horror movie will expect something bad to happen every time a person enters bedroom alone.

Contribution of Comprehension to Memory

Atkinson & Shiffrin, (1968), found that the chances of retrieving information from long-term memory are dependent on the extent to which the information was repeated in the working or short-term memory. This means that more rehearsal of the information leads to improved retrieval of that information (Bower, 2000). Other researchers, however, found that simple maintenance rehearsal may not lead to approved retrieval (Craik and Lockhart, 1972). What the rate of retrieval depends on the information was first processed. Craik and Lockhart (1972), found that durability of memory is dependent on how deep the information was formed. The depth of formation of information is measured by the extent to which comprehends and retrieves the sense of information to process meaningful link and interpretation with the existing knowledge. One may be reminded of their life event through an event on a TV show. The event can make one relate the experience of the character with their experience in past event. Thus, one’s ability to comprehend information has effects on how long we can store and access such information in the long-term memory. If more attention is given the TV show, one is likely to remember the content better that when one does not give primary attention to it. 

According to Daneman and Carpenter (1980), measures that tap both storage and processing power of short-term memory such as listening span and reading span are good measures of comprehension. In addition to this research, Maredyth (1996) meta-analysis showed that working memory capacity is highly associated with the ability to comprehend language. Before this meta-analysis, many theorists had offered suggestions showing that short-term memory has a critical role in reading and listening comprehension. Short-term memory was seen as a source of diversity in individual comprehension ability. The power or ability to identify the semantic and syntactic relations is also a vital component.

Temporary storage is important for successful understanding. Thus, individuals with less temporary memory capacity have less capacity to retrieve the stored memory representation and are less likely to integrate the idea and process meaning. Individuals with larger short-term memory capacity can link the current event with the previous one stored in the working memory and hence constructing a representation for the current event to easily process meaning. This theory indicates that the capacity of short-term memory is related to individual ability to comprehend. Resources of short-term memory give a good prediction of performance of language comprehension. Verbal process and components of verbal storage are however important in assessing and analyzing best predictive validity.

How Context Affect Meaning Comprehension

Context is one of the factors that affect meaning comprehension. Context refers to where, how, and why information is given. Meaning comprehension cannot be processed only by semantics and syntax. Other additional interpretive processes are critical in cognitive processing of meaning and comprehension. The language domain is represented pragmatics. This language area determines how utterances are interpreted in the context of a culture of society. Pragmatics can result in unintended consequences since people differ in their view regarding the rules of pragmatics (Holtgraves, 2005). Research has shown that this can happen in psychological experiment since the involved parties make pragmatic assumptions that are different. Such a challenge occurs with some discovered frequency by psychologists.

Grice (1975) found that all communication is associated with relevance assumptions. For this reason, key players in psychological experiments perceive the experimenter communication as relevant and assume they are not as a result of experimenter intention. This means that experimenters may provide information to the involved parties to test they will use it. However, according to the pragmatic rules followed by participants, all information is relevant, and it should be used. For example, studies by Kahneman and Tversky (1973), received information about a person with consistent stereotypes for lawyers and engineers. The number of participant lawyers and engineers was changed. The participants were likely to assume the engineer was the target or even the lawyer was the target. Their interpretation was based on the relationship between the engineers and lawyers as per the information provided.

Other biases can lead to the wrong judgment of the meaning of the text. For example, an essay by Harris (1967) was given for interpretation. An essay was written by another student and presented to other students to judge the meaning and the true opinion on the presented issue. Some participants got the information to adopt the position conveyed, while others were told the opinion was freely chosen. The inference by the participants indicated that the position of the author was in line with the position proposed in the essay and was not testable of the true opinion of the writer. The participant had a task and information to use in performing the task. They made assumptions about reasons that that information should be used since it was provided. This clearly confirms that people are likely to use information since it has been provided. The information was selected randomly, and it might be irrelevant in performing the task given.

Unintended pragmatic effects can happen in psychological tests in a clear way. For example, inferences may sometimes be made to reduce the importance of the communication by the experimenter. In such a case, the pragmatic process may contribute in how individuals respond to any measure of self-report. This can be demonstrated by how Strack, Schwarz, and Wanke (1991) requested participants to measure their joy and their satisfaction by happiness with life. Some participants presented the two items together in their interview questionnaire. Other respondents presented life satisfaction first in the different could. Considering the first situation, the appearance of the second question was redundant. This is because it did not observe the maxim of relevance by Grice. This may make the participants perceive that it has a different meaning from the first since it was asked. The meaning of the two questions differed significantly in the same interview questionnaire. Such challenges do not occur when two items are present in different questionnaires. In this situation, the responses appeared almost the same. Making of response scale has similar meanings. The sample participants perceive that response scale is important and they treat them as a meaningful part of the questionnaire. The respondents can, therefore, use the rating scale to interpret the meaning of texts (Schwarz, 1996; Schwarz, Hippler, Deutsch, & Strack, 1985; Schwarz et al., 1991).

In general, use of language involves cognitive processing of the meaning and its comprehension within a series of pragmatic rules. Communication is imperfect, and my even lead to unintended effects due to diversity in pragmatic assumptions. In the case of inferences on a psychological experiment, unintended judgments may be made, and wrong meaning of could text may be presented. Holtgraves (2005) demonstrated that speakers and recipients could differ systematically in their text presentation and meaning.


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