What are cognitive abilities?

Here is our first installment of questions from Brain Fitness 101: Answers to Your Top 25 Questions. To download the complete version, please click here.

Question: What are cognitive abilities?

Key Points:

  • Cognitive abilities are mental skills necessary for a successful life.
  • Cognitive abilities, like any muscle, if not used regularly, decrease over time. If exercised properly, they can increase over time.

Cognitive abilities are the brain-based skills and mental processes that are needed to carry out any task – from the simplest to the most complex. Every task can be broken down into the different cognitive skills that are needed to complete that task successfully. If they are not used regularly, your cognitive abilities will diminish over time. Fortunately, these skills can also be improved at any age with regular practice.

Here are a few definitions:

  1. Alternating Attention: the ability to shift the focus of attention quickly.
  2. Auditory Processing Speed: the time it takes to perceive relevant auditory stimuli, encode, and interpret it and then make an appropriate response.
  3. Central Processing Speed: the time it takes to encode, categorize, and understand the meaning of any sensory stimuli.
  4. Conceptual Reasoning: includes concept formation, abstraction, deductive logic, and/or inductive logic.
  5. Divided Attention: the capability to recognize and respond to multiple stimuli at the same time.
  6. Fine Motor Control: the ability to accurately control fine motor movements.
  7. Fine Motor Speed: the time it takes to perform a simple motor response.
  8. Focused (or Selective) Attention: the ability to screen out distracting stimuli.
  9. Response Inhibition: the ability to avoid automatically reacting to incorrect stimuli.
  10. Sustained Attention: the ability to maintain vigilance.
  11. Visuospatial Classification: the ability to discriminate between visual objects based on a concept or rule.
  12. Visuospatial Sequencing: the ability to discern the sequential order of visual objects based on a concept or rule.
  13. Visual Perception: the ability to perceive fixed visual objects.
  14. Visual Processing Speed: the time it takes to perceive visual stimuli.
  15. Visual Scanning: the ability to find a random visual cue.
  16. Visual Tracking: the ability to follow a continuous visual cue.
  17. Working Memory: the ability to hold task-relevant information while processing it.

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