What are Cognitive Skills?

Have you ever found yourself zoning out in the middle of a conversation or struggling to focus on a task? We all have. By improving our cognitive function, we can greatly lower the number of times we find this happening. In this article, we will go over some of the main cognitive theories, important cognitive skills, how to improve cognitive function, and signs of low cognitive ability. 

What Are the 3 Main Cognitive Theories?

There are several different cognitive theories. Some theories relate to our cognitive function as we age, and others analyze cognitive function in relation to learning and memorization. These theories give us some insight into our brain’s aging process and how we can influence our cognitive function. Here are the three main cognitive theories for learning:

  • Dual coding theory - Humans learn using both verbal and nonverbal stimuli through several sensorimotor systems
  • Cognitive load theory - Our working memory is limited, meaning we can only learn and remember a certain amount of information at any given time
  • Cognitive theory of multimedia learning - We learn more effectively from words and pictures than from words alone

Try to keep in mind that these are theories. While there is research to support these theories, more research is required for us to better understand cognitive function.

What Are 10 Cognitive Skills?

Developing cognitive skills is incredibly important. These skills help our brains think, read, learn, reason, and remember. With these skills, we can process information and distribute it to the appropriate areas of the brain. What are the cognitive skills we should strive to develop?

  • Sustained attention - Allows us to stay focused for longer
  • Selective attention - Allows us to focus on one task despite distractions
  • Divided attention - Allows us to multitask without forgetting information about either action
  • Long-term memory - Allows us to retain information from the past
  • Working memory - Allows us to retain information while using it
  • Logic and reasoning - Allows us to solve problems and generate ideas
  • Auditory processing - Allows us to analyze, blend, and segment information
  • Visual processing - Allows us to interpret visual information better
  • Processing speed - Allows us to perform tasks faster and accurately

How Can I Improve My Cognitive Skills?

Fortunately, there are things we can do to improve cognitive skills as we age. Think of your brain like a muscle: the more you exercise it, the stronger it will become. In order to give your brain a full workout, you need to engage both hemispheres of the cerebrum and cerebellum. You can only do this by exercising your brain. Here are some of the things you can do to improve your cognitive skills:

  • Physical activity - Certain hormones are increased during exercise which can help improve memory
  • Experience new things - Learning new skills can help our brains stay sharp as we age
  • Get creative - Participation in arts and crafts can improve our creative skills
  • Stay social - Humans are social creatures by nature. Feeling isolated from others can disrupt sleep, elevate blood pressure, increase cortisol, increase depression, and lower overall well-being
  • Meditate - Meditating can lower stress levels and can slow the progression of age-related cognitive disorders
  • Brain-training games - There are games that can help improve memory and lower the chances of Alzheimer’s and other dementia diseases
  • Sleep - Getting a good night's sleep is incredibly important. Sleep helps the brain consolidate learning and memory

How Do Students Develop Cognitive Skills?

As a student, it’s important to develop cognitive skills. The sharper you are, the more information you will be able to retain. However, it’s important to develop the right cognitive skills. It’s also important to understand how to develop cognitive skills. Here are some things you should know:

  • Logic - Logic and reasoning games can help improve logic, making it easier to solve, plan, analyze, and comprehend problems
  • Concentration - Developing selective attention and learning how to ignore distractions can help students pay attention throughout class and studying
  • Processing speed - Training the brain to make solid connections and affirmative decisions can decrease the time taken by the mind to process information or commands

How Do Adults Develop Cognitive Skills?

Improving cognitive skills isn’t reserved for kids and students. We can improve our cognitive skills even as adults. In fact, it’s important that we’re taking steps to maintain our cognitive skills as we get older. Here are some of the things you can do:

  • Get recommended health screenings 
  • Manage chronic health problems
  • Quit smoking
  • Avoid falls and head injuries
  • Consult with your healthcare provider about the medicines you take
  • Get enough sleep
  • Limit alcohol use

What Causes Low Cognitive Ability?

Low cognitive ability can be caused by cognitive disorders. Like other mental disorders, cognitive disorders can be caused by a variety of different things. Some are due to hormonal imbalances in the womb while others are caused by genetic predisposition. Environmental factors can also cause these disorders. 

Poor lifestyle habits can lead to low cognitive ability. Substance abuse and physical injury, especially head trauma, can lower ability. When the brain is damaged by outside factors, the neurophysiological changes can result in cognitive dysfunction.

What Are the Signs of Cognitive Decline?

Recognizing the signs of cognitive decline can help you get the help that you need. While there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia diseases, treatment can help slow the development of symptoms. Here are some of the signs you should be on the lookout for:

  • Memory loss - forgetting recent events, names of friends and family members, and appointments can be a sign of cognitive decline
  • Language problems - difficulty coming up with desired words
  • Attention - losing focus easily 
  • Reasoning and judgment - struggles with planning and problem-solving
  • Complex decision-making - may struggle to complete complex tasks like paying bills and taking medications 

If you notice any of these symptoms in a loved one, speak with a medical professional.