Introduction - Cognition, Consciousness, and Language

MCAT Behavioral Sciences Review - Kaplan Test Prep 2021–2022

Cognition, Consciousness, and Language

Chapter Profile


The content in this chapter should be relevant to about 7% of all questions about the behavioral sciences on the MCAT.

This chapter covers material from the following AAMC content category:

6B: Making sense of the environment

As you think and move through the world, you often take your brain for granted. As you read, speak, ponder, make decisions, and perform complex motor functions, your brain is rapidly using electrical and chemical impulses to encode, store, and retrieve information. Most of these processes occur without your awareness or conscious thought. Imagine going to the grocery store. You fill your cart while comparing prices, assessing the produce, and planning what meals to make in the near future. After the cashier totals your purchases, you pull out a debit card, punch in a PIN, and leave with your groceries. While you were shopping in that grocery store, your brain was busy taking in all of the information around it and deciding which stimuli required attention. At the same time, you were making conscious decisions about your purchases, likely daydreaming, and maybe even singing along to music playing in the background. But, to your awareness, this was still just a simple trip to the store because most of the time, you don’t even notice the tremendous processing power of your brain as you navigate the world.

But in some ways, this capacity for simultaneous conscious thinking, daydreaming, and decision making is what makes us human. Many of these functions are under the province of the frontal lobe, which—in comparison to other species on this planet—is disproportionately large in H. sapiens sapiens. Your frontal lobe enables you to eschew instantaneous reward and to seek out delayed gratification, like studying for the MCAT to get that high score you deserve. The frontal lobe also controls your production of language, which permits you to transmit ideas between individuals, cultures, and time. Finally, the frontal lobe helps you coordinate your thinking by deciding which stimuli deserve your attention. These are functions that are indispensable to your daily functioning and will be the focus of this chapter.