What Is Semantic in Cognitive Psychology?


Martha Robinson

Semantic is a term used in cognitive psychology to refer to the meaning of words and language. It is the study of how people understand and use words in context, as well as how they form mental representations of concepts and ideas.

What is Semantic?

In simple terms, semantic refers to the way that people use language to communicate meaning. It involves understanding the relationships between words, phrases, and sentences, as well as the context in which they are used.

For example, when we talk about a “dog”, we have a mental representation of what a dog looks like, what it does, and what it sounds like. This mental representation is based on our previous experiences with dogs and our understanding of the word “dog” in relation to other words and concepts.

Why is Semantic Important?

Semantic plays an important role in many areas of cognitive psychology, including language acquisition, comprehension, and production. It helps us to understand how people learn new words and concepts, how they interpret language in different contexts, and how they generate new ideas through language.

For example, research has shown that children’s ability to understand new words is closely related to their knowledge of other words with similar meanings. This suggests that semantic knowledge is an important factor in word learning.

Similarly, studies have shown that people’s ability to comprehend sentences depends on their knowledge of the meanings of individual words as well as their understanding of the relationships between those words. This highlights the importance of semantic processing in language comprehension.

  • Types of Semantic Processing

There are two main types of semantic processing:

1. Bottom-up Processing:

Bottom-up processing involves analyzing individual words or phrases and building up a mental representation based on their meanings. This type of processing is often used when encountering new or unfamiliar vocabulary.

For example:

When you encounter a new word, you might use bottom-up processing to break it down into its component parts and try to infer its meaning based on your knowledge of those parts.

2. Top-down Processing:

Top-down processing involves using prior knowledge and context to interpret language. This type of processing is often used when encountering familiar vocabulary in a new context.

When you encounter a word that you know well but in a new context, you might use top-down processing to draw on your prior knowledge and understand the meaning of the word in that specific context.


In conclusion, semantic is an important concept in cognitive psychology that helps us to understand how people learn, comprehend, and produce language. By studying semantic processing, researchers can gain insights into how the brain represents and processes meaning, as well as how language is used in everyday communication.