Memory, Cognitive Abilities and Executive Functions

Thinking menA mis­con­cep­tion we encounter often is that “mem­o­ry” is the only, or most impor­tant, “thing” that our brains do. And the only one we need to care for.

We have a vari­ety of cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties, from atten­tion to pro­cess­ing speed to prob­lem-solv­ing to emo­tion­al self-reg­u­la­tion to, yes, mem­o­ry. (And more). Even mem­o­ry is not one whole thing, but has dif­fer­ent types and process­es: work­ing mem­o­ry vs. long-term, audi­to­ry vs. visu­al, events vs. facts vs. skills.

I say this in the con­text of this arti­cle and video you may already have seen, where a young chimp dis­plays amaz­ing visu­al work­ing mem­o­ry capa­bil­i­ty, beat­ing humans.

- Read insight­ful blog post here. Quote

This study shows that chimps can mem­o­rize at a glance the numer­als pre­sent­ed on the screen, and that they can do so just as well — and even bet­ter — than humans can. Note that the supe­ri­or per­for­mance came from a young chimp, and that the per­for­mance of old­er chimps on the same task was more sim­i­lar to that of humans.”

- Watch video

Impres­sive, isn’t yet? Yet, a clear indi­ca­tion that mem­o­ry is not all that mat­ters. Please com­pare the “intel­li­gence” (in any way you want to define it), the qual­i­ty of think­ing, dis­played by those apes, with the one dis­played in this recent inter­view with Bill Dray­ton at Good Mag­a­zine, founder of Ashoka and one of the par­ents of the social entre­pre­neur­ship move­ment. Quotes:

- “Ashoka (and all of us in the GOOD com­mu­ni­ty) are serv­ing the most pro­found his­tor­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion in the struc­ture of soci­ety since the agri­cul­tur­al revolution–the shift from a world led by small elites to an “every­one a change-mak­er” glob­al society.”

- “Social entre­pre­neur­ship is the field Ashoka has been build­ing for 27 years that helps the world’s most promis­ing new ideas and the social entre­pre­neurs behind them get start­ed, suc­ceed over their long life cycles, work and col­lab­o­rate togeth­er through the local to glob­al com­mu­ni­ty we are building.”

Full inter­view: here (via Huff­in­g­ton Post)

You can read more about Ashoka at “Every­one a Change­mak­er”, Ashoka and Google

Some impor­tant cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties are what neu­ropsy­chol­o­gists call Exec­u­tive Func­tions, which reside in our frontal lobes (behind your fore­head), the most recent part of our brains in evo­lu­tion­ary terms. Some examples:

- Plan­ning: fore­sight in devis­ing mul­ti-step strategies.

- Flex­i­bil­i­ty: capac­i­ty for quick­ly switch­ing to the appro­pri­ate men­tal mode.

- Inhi­bi­tion: the abil­i­ty to with­stand dis­trac­tion, and inter­nal urges.

- Antic­i­pa­tion: pre­dic­tion based on pat­tern recognition.

- Crit­i­cal eval­u­a­tion: log­i­cal analysis.

- Work­ing mem­o­ry: capac­i­ty to hold and manip­u­late infor­ma­tion “on-line” in our minds in real time.

- Fuzzy log­ic: capac­i­ty to choose with incom­plete information.

- Divid­ed atten­tion: abil­i­ty to pay atten­tion to more than one thing at a time.

- Deci­sion-mak­ing: both qual­i­ty and speed.

A high­ly rec­om­mend­ed book, if you are inter­est­ed in learn­ing more about Exec­u­tive Func­tions and Frontal Lobes, is The Exec­u­tive Brain: Frontal Lobes and the Civ­i­lized Mind , by Dr. Elkhonon Gold­berg. You can read an in-depth review here.

On a relat­ed note, you may enjoy this Time Mag­a­zine spe­cial on What Makes Us Moral.

About SharpBrains

SHARPBRAINS is an independent think-tank and consulting firm providing services at the frontier of applied neuroscience, health, leadership and innovation.
SHARPBRAINS es un think-tank y consultoría independiente proporcionando servicios para la neurociencia aplicada, salud, liderazgo e innovación.

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