"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."
Cognition (認知存在, Ninchi sonzai)? is a concept in Persona 5 that is an important theme in the game, and can apply to people, locations and objects. Similar existences are hinted at earlier in the Persona series.
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, and some cognitions such as Sphinx Wakaba and Doe take traits similar to their host's Shadow Selves. Furthermore, some cognitions can also be fused with Shadow Selves or are sometimes even Shadows themselves, such as the nobles in Shido's Palace or the carnivorous dinosaurs in Junessic Land.
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. Therefore, Nyarlathotep, the granter of such abilities, is able to control the cognition of people to alter reality itself to his favor.
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 the cognition of individuals and society, with those 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. The masses' cognition begins to erase them, plummeting the already low support rate of the Phantom Thieves in the Phantom Aficionado Website to exactly 0%. The protagonist finds himself in the Velvet Room where "Igor" tells Caroline and Justine to execute him, until they awaken as well and he fuses them into Lavenza, in which the two face Yaldabaoth. He offers the protagonist a chance to join him, and if he refuses, Yaldabaoth allows them to remain in existence for his own amusement and it is revealed that those who are banished by the masses' cognition are actually imprisoned in special cells inside the Velvet Room, which has been merged with Mementos after its infiltration and capture. 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 and the reverse manipulation also awakens Arsene into Satanael, who kills him with a shell imbued with the combined might of the Seven Deadly Sins.
Morgana is a special cognition formed as a last ditch effort to lead the Trickster on his journey to stop Yaldabaoth. With Yaldabaoth's defeat, Morgana fades away with the Metaverse. However, Morgana manages to revive back in his normal cat form and still retains his ability to talk to the Phantom Thieves likely as a result of them keeping him in their cognitions.
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 can appear again if its creator desires it like with the case of cognitive Ann. For the most part, cognitions are passive and do nothing when they encounter the Phantom Thieves. However, several cognitions have attacked the Phantom Thieves during their Palace heists.
- Kamoshida's Palace:
- Madarame's Palace:
- Portraits of Ichiryusai Madarame's disciples: Madarame's profitable and expendable artistic sources of his success.
- Guests: The devoted fanbase to Madarame's stolen glory.
- Kaneshiro's Palace:
- ATM humans: Cash dispensers for Junya Kaneshiro's own greed.
- Kaneshiro's Henchmen: Enforcers of Kaneshiro's crime empire.
- Futaba's Palace:
- Okumura's Palace:
- Sugimura: Kunikazu Okumura's stepping stone to political power by sacrificing Haru's happiness. Unlike most other cognitions whose personality simply represent how their hosts perceive them, the personality of cognitive Sugimura does not deviate much from his real self.
- Corporobos: Dispensable labors devoid of emotion and loyal to Kunikazu's empire. Kunikazu's main line of defense that fights the Phantom Thieves.
- Niijima's Palace:
- Various casino patrons: The cognition of how Sae sees those who enter the courthouse. They are ignorant of their losses and the problems around them.
- Phantom Thief Joker: A cognitive replica of the protagonist used to trick Akechi into assassinating a fake.
- Cognitive Goro Akechi: Mentioned only. While the protagonist was in custody, Makoto ambushed and hid this cognitive replica in order to prevent the real Akechi from potentially encountering a doppelgänger and realizing he was in the Metaverse.
- Shido's Palace:
- Five Nobles: Four of Masayoshi Shido's most powerful, wealthy, and/or loyal allies in his conquest. All of them are so similar to their real selves that they have fused with the actual Shadow Selves of the people they represent.
- Cognitive Goro Akechi: Shido's obedient and disposable puppet and hitman in the Metaverse.
- 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.
Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth
The main inhabitants of the movie world are actually cognitive existences of people in Hikari's past, in which most of them being those of her past tormentors who emotionally abused her because she was different from other people. Unlike the cognitions in Persona 5, as these cognitions are simply actors given shape by the Persona user's cognition, they can take the form of anyone that the Persona users know and Hikari doesn't as long as they fit in the role.
Their behavior can deviate drastically from the Persona characters that they take the form of, as they inherit their behavior from how Hikari perceives the person they are based on, and their dialogue use the exact phrasing as those people during their corresponding incidents. Just like the movie Labyrinths in the game, they do not exist until Doe invoked them into the movies by overwriting the original movies with Hikari's suppressed memories.
Unlike the uniformly hostile guardians under Chronos' control in Persona Q, these cognitions have varying roles that can arrange from being antagonists that oppress the other inhabitants in the movie and act against the party to assisting them in changing the movie's ending. Those who assist the party invariably use Hikari as a base and those who are against the party are always based on her tormentors. The only exception is Doe, who both assists the party and Hikari in escaping the Cinema and goes against them by attacking the party and trying to keep Hikari from moving away from her past.
- Kamoshidaman: The untouchable superhero who is the absolute authority of Kamocity. Based on Hikari's primary school teacher who was viewed as a just authority who can do nothing wrong. Her teacher's cognition took Kamoshida's form as he is the first thing that the Phantom Thieves think of about corrupt authorities.
- Super Kamoshidaman: Kamoshidaman's true form that appears as a monstrous rabbit-like creature, representing Hikari's resentment of being falsely accused of poisoning the class rabbit by her teacher.
- Chicken Kid and Buster Girl: Defenders of Kamocity patrolling it from all intruders. They represent the kids who caretake the class rabbit alongside Hikari and turned on her when she said the teacher was wrong.
- Citizens of Kamocity: Undying support and idolizers of Kamoshidaman's absolute justice. Based on the students of Hikari's primary school who unconditionally supported their teacher when she was falsely accused of poisoning the class rabbit. Policemen cognitions can transform into Shadows and attack the party.
- Junessic Land:
- Herbivore Dinosaurs: The weak inhabitants of Junessic Land who act as a hivemind without any actual regard for the benefits for themselves or others. Based on Hikari's secondary school friends who outcast her because of their selfish self-preservative policies.
- Yosukesaurus: The outcast dinosaur of Junessic Land. A cognitive copy of Hikari's secondary school self who took Yosuke's form as he is the first thing that comes into the Investigation Team's mind when it comes to an outcast friend.
- Carnivorous Dinosaurs: The carnivorous dinosaurs that terrorize Junessic Land and are based on the girls that bullied Hikari in her secondary school. Despite they directly threaten the Herbivore Dinosaurs, the latter does not make any attempts to oppose the former. They are unique as they are actually F.O.Es (and are thus shadows) taking cognitive traits.
- Mother Computer and Overseer: The absolute AI governor of A.I.G.I.S who thinks uniqueness and personality is a dangerous crime, and seeks to remove anyone possessing them. Based on Hikari's relatives who denied her unique future wishes. They took Shuji Ikutsuki's form as he is the first thing that crosses S.E.E.S' mind when it comes to non-authorative parental figures.
- UIY-2249/Ribbon: The self-loathing unique robot of A.I.G.I.S who constantly wishes for herself to be scrapped and destroyed. A cognitive copy of Hikari's high school self who took this form as Aigis is the first thing that comes into S.E.E.S' mind when it comes to a unique friend. Just like cognitive Sugimura, Ribbon's personality and behavior is near-identical to the source of the cognition she is based on.
- Hikari's past selves: Various stages of Hikari's past who were dehumanized due to being different from others, devoid of any other influence that causes them to resemble other people.
- Hikari's tormentors: Copies of people who emotionally abused or manipulated Hikari in the past because she spoke or acted against them, although the last one that took the form of her father is merely a false recollection. They often use the same phrases as the respective movie characters they represent. They transform into Shadows that attack the party if provoked and denied.
- Doe: The strange creature that broadcasts the films in the movie world. He is based on Hikari's conflicting paranoia and fond memories of her father, embodying Hikari's denied desire for identity and her desire to avoid any more pain. He works both towards helping Hikari come to terms with her past and keeping her trapped in it. After being defeated, he transforms into a Cognition of Hikari's father as he truly was and helps her escape the cinema.
- The concept of Cognition and Morgana's speech after the final battle strongly suggest Cognition is Persona's equivalent to Observation.
- According to Futaba, there was a cognition of Goro Akechi in Niijima's Palace. While Sae and Goro interacted, the others made sure to kidnap the cognitive Akechi to keep him from being seen by Sae or worse, by Akechi himself.