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What are Cognitive Abilities and Skills, and How to Boost Them?

learn about cognitive abilityWhat is cog­ni­tion? Cog­ni­tion has to do with how a per­son under­stands the world and acts in it. It is the set of men­tal abil­i­ties or process­es that are part of near­ly every human action while we are awake.

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 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).

Cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties or skills are sup­port­ed by spe­cif­ic neu­ronal net­works. For instance mem­o­ry skills rely main­ly on parts of the tem­po­ral lobes and parts of the frontal lobes (behind the fore­head).

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 — We hope you enjoy them!

COGNITIVE ABILITIES ARE BRAINS FUNCTIONS

Cog­ni­tive Ability/Brain Func­tion
Skills involved
PERCEPTION         Recog­ni­tion and inter­pre­ta­tion of sen­so­ry stim­uli (smell, touch, hear­ing…)

Brain teasers:

ATTENTION Abil­i­ty to sus­tain con­cen­tra­tion on a par­tic­u­lar object, action, or thought, and abil­i­ty to man­age com­pet­ing demands in our envi­ron­ment.

Brain teasers:

MEMORY Short-ter­m/ work­ing mem­o­ry (lim­it­ed stor­age), and Long-term mem­o­ry (unlim­it­ed stor­age).

Brain teas­er:

MOTOR SKILLS Abil­i­ty to mobi­lize our mus­cles and bod­ies, and abil­i­ty to manip­u­late objects.

Brain teasers:

  • Tap your right hand on the table. At the same time, make a cir­cu­lar move­ment with  your left hand (as if you were clean­ing the table)
  • Do the same, switch­ing hands
LANGUAGE Skills allow­ing us to trans­late sounds into words and gen­er­ate ver­bal out­put.

Brain teas­er:

VISUAL AND SPACIAL PROCESSING Abil­i­ty to process incom­ing visu­al stim­uli, to under­stand spa­tial rela­tion­ship between objects, and to visu­al­ize images and sce­nar­ios.

Brain teas­er:

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.

 

Brain teasers:

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COGNITIVE ABILITIES ARE NOT FIXED — WE CAN IMPROVE THEM VIA LIFESTYLE AND TARGETED PRACTICE

With age, some cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties tend to decline, espe­cial­ly the so-called exec­u­tive func­tions, and those cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties that are not used reg­u­lar­ly. For­tu­nate­ly, grow­ing evi­dence shows that decline can be delayed with appro­pri­ate lifestyle options and prac­tices. Here are some resources to guide you as you look for ways to boost your cog­ni­tive func­tions:

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18 Responses

  1. Kevin McGrew says:

    An inter­est­ing list. How­ev­er, the defin­i­tive cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties tax­on­o­my is now wide­ly con­sid­ered to be the Horn-Cat­tell Gf-Gc or Cat­tell-Horn-Catell (CHC) the­o­ry of cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties. It is a hier­ar­chi­cal tax­on­o­my of cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties that includes gen­er­al intel­li­gence (g) at the top, 8–10 broad abil­i­ties at the next stra­tum, and 50+ spe­cial­ized nar­row cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties. It is wide­ly accept­ed as the most empir­i­cal­ly sol­id psy­cho­me­t­ric for­mu­la­tion of a tax­on­o­my of human cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties. More infor­ma­tion can be found at:

    http://www.iapsych.com/CHCPP/CHCPP.html

    Updat­ed infor­ma­tion can be found at IQs Cor­ner (www.intelligencetesting.blogspot.com).

    Kevin (the web/blogmaster for these two URLs)

  2. Alvaro says:

    Thanks Kevin, we are try­ing to cre­ate a user-friend­ly list for non-experts, not rede­fine aca­d­e­m­ic cat­e­gories. Many neu­ropsy­chol­o­gists focus on oth­er dimen­sions rather than the con­struct “g”. We will review the mate­ri­als you sug­gest, and hap­py to refine as need­ed. Thanks

  3. Don says:

    Is a diag­no­sis of legal­ly blind a dimin­ish­ment of cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties?
    If so how many cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties are decreased in the absence of oth­er prob­lems?

  4. […] depri­va­tion affects cog­ni­tive abil­i­ty . A study showed that peo­ple who were awake for nine­teen con­sec­u­tive hours were as cog­ni­tive­ly […]

  5. […] Posit Sci­ence tech­nol­o­gy in Brain­HQ not only improves key stan­dard mea­sures of cog­ni­tive func­tion (includ­ing speed and accu­ra­cy of pro­cess­ing, atten­tion, and mem­o­ry), they also improve key stan­dard […]

  6. […] a study com­mis­sioned by Lumos­i­ty, peo­ple who played Lumos­i­ty for 10 weeks improved their cog­ni­tive func­tion more than a place­bo group who played online cross­word […]

  7. […] health. Turmer­ic has the abil­i­ty to heal wounds, slow down aging, reduce inflam­ma­tion, pro­tect your cog­ni­tive abil­i­ty, improve your skin health, alle­vi­ate pain, improve diges­tion, and pre­vent […]

  8. […] best option to help the patient recov­er,  reduce symp­toms, max­imise their func­tion­al and cog­ni­tive capac­i­ties, improve their well-being and inde­pen­dence, and to encour­age them to set their indi­vid­ual neu­ro […]

  9. […] Mich­e­lon, P. (2006, Decem­ber 18). What are cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties and skills, and how to boost them? Retrieved from https://sharpbrains.com/blog/2006/12/18/what-are-cognitive-abilities/ […]

  10. […] it has also been deter­mined that sharks are capa­ble of learn­ing cog­ni­tive skills from oth­er sharks much like black­birds learn from one anoth­er. There are sev­er­al species of shark […]

  11. […] of the brain on gamers, show­ing long-time game play­ers, espe­cial­ly action gen­res, have a high­er cog­ni­tive abil­i­ty than ordi­nary peo­ple or peo­ple just play games in a short […]

  12. […] indi­vid­ual with great cog­ni­tive skills is bet­ter-posi­tioned to suc­ceed in this busi­ness, as they come in handy in a vari­ety of work […]

  13. […] of the brain on gamers, show­ing long-time game play­ers, espe­cial­ly action gen­res, have a high­er cog­ni­tive abil­i­ty than ordi­nary peo­ple who just play games in a short […]

  14. Can Nootropics Make You Smarter? – Kate Headley says:

    […] have large sam­ple sizes of par­tic­i­pants and show that some sup­ple­ments can sig­nif­i­cant­ly improve cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties over the short term. How­ev­er, the long term side effects of using nootrop­ics are still up for […]

  15. […] sup­ple­ments are drugs that can have a pos­i­tive effect on cog­ni­tive pow­er. They are some­times called brain pills or smart drugs, and they are used by all dif­fer­ent groups of […]

  16. […] a hap­py, healthy life begins by nur­tur­ing their cog­ni­tive devel­op­ment. Our cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties are brain-based skills that help us com­plete sim­ple or com­plex tasks, includ­ing read­ing, writ­ing, remem­ber­ing, rea­son­ing […]

  17. […] injury can impair your cog­ni­tive skills in a sig­nif­i­cant way, espe­cial­ly over time. Some of the most com­mon prob­lems you’re like­ly to […]

  18. […] cheer up your grand­par­ent is when you play with them. Select games that can also stim­u­late their cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties. Your options include scrab­ble, puz­zles, or chess. This way, you will be hit­ting two birds with one […]

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As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters,  SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking how brain science can improve our health and our lives.

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