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

learn about cognitive abilityFirst of all, what 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. I hope you enjoy it…and have fun!

COGNITIVE ABILITIES ARE BRAINS FUNCTIONS

Cog­ni­tive Ability/Brain Func­tion
Skills involved

Per­cep­tion

Recog­ni­tion and inter­pre­ta­tion of sen­so­ry stim­uli (smell, touch, hear­ing, etc.)

Brain teasers:

Atten­tion

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

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 chal­lenges:

  • 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 Spa­tial 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:

New Brain Fitness Guide

Sharp BrainWe are very excit­ed to announce our new­ly released Brain Fit­ness for Sharp Brains: Your New New Year Res­o­lu­tion. We wrote it in order to pro­vide an intro­duc­tion to the con­cept, sci­ence, and prac­tice of brain fit­ness in plain Eng­lish, by answer­ing the Top 25 ques­tions we have received over the last four months. Dr. Elkhonon Gold­berg, Alvaro Fer­nan­dez and myself (Car­o­line) have been work­ing hard on this.

You can click here to get your copy of the com­plete guide. Oth­er­wise, keep check­ing back this blog, as we will pub­lish a new ques­tion and its answer every Mon­day and Thurs­day before 9AM Pacif­ic Stan­dard Time. If we missed your press­ing ques­tion, let us know!

Here is a sneak pre­view of the ques­tions we will be answer­ing …

Read the rest of this entry »

This is a Brain Fitness Center.

Cognitive Training and Brain Fitness Computer Programs: Interview with Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg

Dr. Elkhonon Gold­berg is a clin­i­cal pro­fes­sor of neu­rol­o­gy at New York Uni­ver­si­ty School of Med­i­cine, and author of over 50 peer-reviewed papers. His areas of exper­tise include exec­u­tive func­tions, mem­o­ry, atten­tion deficit dis­or­der, demen­tia, trau­mat­ic brain injury, and oth­ers. Dr. Gold­berg was a stu­dent and close asso­ciate of the great neu­ropsy­chol­o­gist Alexan­der Luria. His book The Exec­u­tive Brain: Frontal Lobes and the Civ­i­lized Mind (Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2001) has received crit­i­cal acclaim and has been pub­lished in 12 lan­guages. His recent book The Wis­dom Para­dox: How Your Mind Can Grow Stronger As Your Brain Grows Old­er (Gotham Books, Pen­guin, 2005) offers an inno­v­a­tive under­stand­ing of cog­ni­tive aging and what can be done to fore­stall cog­ni­tive decline. It has been, or is in the process of being, pub­lished in 13 lan­guages.

We are for­tu­nate that Dr. Gold­berg is Sharp­Brains Co-Founder and Chief Sci­en­tif­ic Advi­sor. His book The Wis­dom Para­dox inspired me to embark in this path, and has been a key sound­ing board in the devel­op­ment of what we are doing.

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Key take-aways

- “Use It and Get More of It” reflects real­i­ty bet­ter than “Use It or Lose It”.

- Let’s demys­ti­fy cog­ni­tion and the brain. Every­one needs to have a basic under­stand­ing of the brain-and how to cul­ti­vate it.

- Well-direct­ed men­tal exer­cise is a must for cog­ni­tive enhance­ment and healthy aging.
Read the rest of this entry »

Emwave and Emotional self-regulation

Performance FreezeFramer Alvaro

In the post Trad­er Peak Per­for­mance and biofeed­back pro­grams we showed the Heart Rate Vari­abil­i­ty pat­terns cor­re­lat­ed with lev­els of a) anx­i­ety or b) Peak Per­for­mance, “The Zone”. Biofeed­back sup­ports our emo­tion­al self-reg­u­la­tion: we can visu­al­ly track what is going on inside us and train our­selves to man­age our emo­tion­al state. On the left you have an exam­ple of my own per­for­mance dur­ing a 5-minute exper­i­ment 4 months ago. At the top, you see my name; at the bot­tom, the dura­tion of the ses­sion. Right axis, for top half, is Heart Rate. (This is only the half left of the screen in the pro­gram-the right half would give you more infor­ma­tion.) I have high­light­ed sev­er­al phas­es:

A: you can see long waves fol­low­ing a smooth rhythm-that is the phys­i­o­log­i­cal “The Zone”, where I can per­form at max­i­mum lev­el. I was using breath­ing and visu­al­iza­tion tech­niques that are some­times called “The Men­tal Game” in ath­let­ics and sports.

B: I stressed myself. How? well, maybe think­ing of a pre­vi­ous boss, or some bad moment in my life. You see that the “waves” dis­ap­pear, and nar­row errat­ic pat­terns appear instead.

C: I quick­ly go back into “The Zone”, Read the rest of this entry »

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