- "The whole world is a product of Cognition... ...not just the Metaverse. It can be freely re-made... The same goes for you, and everyone else. Remember... There's no such thing as the "real" world. What each person sees and feels-- Those are what shape reality. This is what gives the world infinite potential."
- —Morgana, Persona 5
Cognition refers to the concept of human perceiving the world and viewing what they see as reality. When enough humans collectively perceive something that concept becomes "real", influencing both the world and themselves. This concept is strongly hinted to be related to previous situations seen in Persona games.
It also refers to when a person is interpreted by other people or society, given form based on those perceptions. The apparent appearance may be identical, but the personality or the physical capabilities can be vastly different than the original. A cognition is not to be confused with a Shadow Self, though one's Shadow Self can also take on properties based on other people's interpretation of the person.
A precursor to cognition concept is introduced in the Persona 2 duology, where several entities are created seemingly from nothing by the power of widespread rumors about them, such as the entirety of the Last Battalion. This includes "false" versions of existing people, such as the ghost of Akinari Kashihara in the clock tower of Seven Sisters High School and the ghost of the (still living) Maya Amano encountered in the caves of Mt. Iwato.
The party's own Shadow Selves are likewise "created" through rumors spread about the party by the Masked Circle, though these copies are shown to be genuine reflections of their counterparts.
The idea of rumors becoming reality is itself a reflection of the power of Cognition, where enough people believing something will make it real.
In Persona 4, the Shadow Selves of the main cast likewise take on elements of cognition, with their appearances and mannerisms being exaggerated or distorted based not on the person's own repressed traits, but how other people watching the Midnight Channel interpret them. The TV World is also strongly implied to be the product of Inaba's Cognition as well.
The Palaces and the Metaverse are the product of societies and individuals Cognition, with it reflecting how they perceive the world. Yaldabaoth controls society from the shadows using the masses Cognition in Mementos. Once he sets his plans in motion he merges Mementos with reality, using the Cognition of the public to deny the existence of the Phantom Thieves of Hearts through the Phan-site's Poll "Do You Believe In the Phantom Thieves?" The masses Cognition begins to erase them once they collectively vote no until the protagonist faces Yaldabaoth in the Velvet Room and Yaldabaoth allows them to still exist for his own amusement. The masses Cognition is later used against Yaldabaoth in the final battle, where their cheers heal and protect the Thieves from the Rays of Control.
Morgana believes it was the groups collective Cognition that allows him to exist after the disappearance of the Metaverse.
Cognition appear in the Palaces of their respective hosts. They are the embodiment of what the hosts perceive them in reality. A cognitive existence can be "killed" in the Palace with no consequence to its origin in reality but would appear again if its creator desires it such as the case of cognitive Ann.
- Kamoshida's Palace:
- Madarame's Palace:
- Portraits of Ichiryusai Madarame's disciples: Profitable assets
- Guests: The devoted fanbase to Madarame's stolen glory.
- Kaneshiro's Palace:
- ATM humans: Cash dispensers for Junya Kaneshiro's own greed.
- Futaba's Palace:
- Okumura's Palace:
- Shido's Palace:
- Cognitive Goro Akechi: Obedient and dispensable puppet to handle the dirty works for Masayoshi Shido.
- Ship passengers: The wealthy and powerful people Shido personally knows and actually cares about. It's remarked several times that they seem almost real rather than automatons. All of them are so similar to their real selves that they have fused with the actual Shadow Selves of the people they represent.
- The concept of Cognition and Morgana's speech after the final battle strongly suggest Cognition is Persona's equivalent to Observation.