Cognitive Science became a self-identified research programme with its own Society and Journal in the late 1970s. By the late 1980s, teaching and research programmes were becoming fairly common in the United States and England. The very well-known UCSD programme began, for example, in 1987. Interest in this interdisciplinary study of the mind and the brain was increasing dramatically.

At about this time, conversations began about creating a cognitive science programme at Carleton. What made us a more plausible candidate to begin this work than most other universities in Canada is that we had members of faculty in each of the four departments usually considered the core of cognitive research who were interested. The four units were Psychology, the linguistics part of SLALS, Philosophy and the artificial intelligence people in SCS. The seven  people were Chris Herdman and Bill Petrusic (psychology), Ann Laubstein and Helmut Zobl (linguistics), Jean-Pierre Corriveau and Franz Oppacher (computer science), and Andrew Brook (philosophy).

2017: Dr. Olessia Jouravlev joined the Institute. Dr. Jouravlev does work in the cognitive neuroscience of language.

2018: The Institute was renamed the Department of Cognitive Science.

2021: Dr. John Anderson and Dr. Alex Kelly joined the Department. Dr. Anderson does research in the area of cognitive aging. He was appointed as a Tier II CRC Chair. Dr. Kelly, a Ph.D. graduate from the program, does work on cognitive architectures.