Psychology is the science that investigates the representation and processing of information by complex organisms. Many animal species are capable of taking in information about their environment, forming internal representations of it, and manipulating these representations to select and execute actions. In addition, many animals are able to adapt to their environments by means of learning that can take place within the lifespan of an individual organism.
Intelligent information processing implies the ability to acquire and process information about the environment in order to select actions that are likely to achieve the fundamental goals of survival and propagation. Animals have evolved a system of capabilities that collectively provide them with the ability to process information.
They have sensory systems such as taste and haptic perception (touch), which provide information about the immediate environment with which the individual is in direct contact; proprioception, which provides information about an animal’s own bodily states; and smell, AUDITION, and VISION, which provide information about more distant aspects of the environment.
Animals are capable of directed, self-generated motion, including eye movements and other motoric behaviors such as manipulation and grasping, which radically increase their ability to pick up sensory information and also to act upon their environments.
The central focus of psychology concerns the information processing that intervenes between sensory inputs and motoric outputs. The most complex forms of intelligence, observed in birds and mammals, and particularly primates (especially great apes and humans) require theories that deal with the machinery of thought and inner experience.
These animals have minds and emotions; their sensory inputs are interpreted to create perceptions of the external world, guided in part by selective attention; some of the products of perception are stored in memory, and may in turn influence subsequent perception. Intellectually sophisticated animals perform decision making and problem solving, and in the case of humans engage in language and communication.
Experience coupled with innate constraints results in a process of cognitive development as the infant becomes an adult, and also leads to learning over the lifespan, so that the individual is able to adapt to its environment within a vastly shorter time scale than that required for evolutionary change. Humans are capable of the most complex and most domain-general forms of information processing of all species; for this reason (and because those who study psychology are humans), most of psychology aims directly or indirectly to understand the nature of human information processing and intelligence.
The most general characteristics of the human system for information processing are described as the cognitive architecture.
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