I've been reading some cognitive psychology books and they all talk about the fact that our brains recognize and store things using patterns. Unfortunately, all these books talk only briefly about this and they left me with many questions unanswered.

So my question is: where can I read more about patterns? Whether it's a book, site or even an article. I couldn't find anything useful.

  • Can you link the books you mention? What do you mean by patterns in this case (not the same as design patterns probably). Commented Jan 16, 2012 at 15:16
  • One of the reasons you can find no more, I believe, is that we don't know. Issues like how we store patterns, how we match them, how we respond to matched patterns are all less well understood. What is clear is that pattern matching is critical in our interpretation of the world. Commented Jan 16, 2012 at 16:21
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    Nah, there's loads out there on pattern matching - such as 'schemas' - which I'll add the link to on my answer below
    – PhillipW
    Commented Jan 18, 2012 at 22:18

4 Answers 4


Gestalt Psychology is worth looking up (mainly about visual patterns)


Chess is also a good example:


One important role in chess skill is pattern recognition (vs. the ability to search through the problem space). Through years of practice and study, masters have learnt several hundred thousands of perceptual chess patterns (called chunking). When one of these patterns is recognized in a particular position, the master then has rapid access to information such as potential moves or move sequences, tactics, and strategies. This explains automatic and intuitive discovery of good moves by a master, as well as extraordinary memory for game-like chess positions.

You can also argue that stored patterns operate a bit like 'production rules' in AI... although AI gets a bit complex !


See also: 'Schemas' - which are pre-existing mental 'patterns' which we tend to apply to incoming mental data:


A schema is a cognitive framework or concept that helps organize and interpret information. Schemas can be useful, because they allow us to take shortcuts in interpreting a vast amount of information. However, these mental frameworks also cause us to exclude pertinent information in favor of information that confirms our pre-existing beliefs and ideas. Schemas can contribute to stereotypes and make it difficult to retain new information that does not conform to our established schemas.


On how the brain stores data: the Wikipedia article on Memory is quite thorough, specially the section Types of memory.

These are some of the types of memory (I don't know if that is what you mean when you say patterns):

  • Semantic memory, which concerns facts taken independent of context.
  • Episodic memory, which concerns information specific to a particular context, such as a time and place.
  • Implicit memory, which is revealed when one does better in a given task due only to repetition.
  • Topographic memory, the ability to orient oneself in space, to recognize and follow an itinerary, or to recognize familiar places.
  • Flashbulb memories, clear memories of unique and highly emotional events.
  • Retrospective memory, when the content of the memory to be remembered is in the past.
  • Prospective memory, the content is to be remembered in the future.
  • Downvoters: a comment would be appreciated. I have changed the answer to sum what the section I mention already explains. Other than that the question is vague enough as to get generic or ambiguous answers, IMHO. Commented Jan 16, 2012 at 15:32
  • The question is about pattern recognition - the Wikipedia article doesn't mention pattern recognition at all..
    – PhillipW
    Commented Jan 21, 2012 at 14:44

I recently read the book Designing With A Mind In Mind and would recommend it. The author talks about pattern recognition and how we remember things.

I noted a few things about visual perception/patterns from Gestalt which includes the following:

  • Proximity - objects that are close, appear grouped
  • Similarity - objects that look similar, appear grouped
  • Continuity - our biased perception tends to see continuous forms rather than disconnected segments
  • Closure - we try to close open figures -- so partially visible objects are seen as whole
  • Symmetry - we parse complex scenes to reduce complexity
  • Figure/ground - our mind separates visual field into the figure (foreground) and ground (background)
  • Common Fate - objects that move together are perceived as grouped

Also, have you heard about the Geon Theory of Object Recognition?

It basically states that we recognize basic shapes when we identify objects -- the basic shapes are called geometic icons (geons). According to Irving Biederman (you can read about his idea of geons), there are 24 basic shapes that we recognize and they're the building blocks of all the objects we see. So if you want people to recognize an object, use a geometric drawing of that object.


How Brains Make Up Their Minds by Walter J. Freeman explains how pattern recognition influences the development of the brain via a complex process of reinforcement.

Sources Of Power by Gary Klein explains the importance of pattern recognition in decision making. (You may recognise some of the material as a more rigorous investigation of the material in Malcolm Gladwell's "Blink", in which Klein's book appears as a footnote.)

Both appear on the book list of the Cognitive Edge website which is an excellent source of related material, as is Dave Snowden's blog.

I'd also recommend The Master And His Emissary by Iain McGilchrist, which delves deeper into the reality of "left-brain, right-brain" myths.

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