Cognitive abilities are brain-based skills we need to carry out any task from the simplest to the most complex. They have more to do with the mechanisms of how we learn, remember, problem-solve, and pay attention rather than with any actual knowledge. For instance, answering the telephone involves at least: perception (hearing the ring tone), decision taking (answering or not), motor skill (lifting the receiver), language skills (talking and understanding language), social skills (interpreting tone of voice and interacting properly with another human being).
In the table below, you can browse through the main brain functions involved in cognition. You will also find brain teasers that will help you exercise the cognitive abilities described. Learn, and have fun!
|Cognitive Ability/Brain Function
Recognition and interpretation of sensory stimuli.
|Attention||Ability to sustain concentration on a particular object, action, or thought.
Ability to manage competing demands in our environment.Brain challenges:
|Memory||Short-term/ working memory (limited storage).
Long-term memory (unlimited storage).Brain challenges:
|Motor||Ability to mobilize our muscles and bodies.
Ability to manipulate objects.Brain challenges:
|Language and Auditory Processing||Skills allowing us to differentiate and comprehend sounds and generate verbal output.Brain challenges:|
|Visual and Spatial Processing||Ability to process incoming visual stimuli.
Ability to visualize images and scenarios.Brain challenges:
|Executive Functions||Abilities that enable goal-oriented behavior, such as the ability to plan, and execute a goal. These include:
Flexibility: the capacity for quickly switching to the appropriate mental mode.
Theory of mind: insight into other people’s inner world, their plans, their likes and dislikes.
Anticipation: prediction based on pattern recognition.
Problem-solving: defining the problem in the right way to then generate solutions and pick the right one.Decision making: the ability to make decisions based on problem-solving, on incomplete information and on emotions (ours and others’).
Working Memory: the capacity to hold and manipulate information “on-line” in real time.
Emotional self-regulation: the ability to identify and manage one’s own emotions for good performance.
Sequencing: the ability to break down complex actions into manageable units and prioritize them in the right order.
Inhibition: the ability to withstand distraction, and internal urges.
This online resource is based on the book The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness (April 2013; 284 pages), by Alvaro Fernandez and Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg.