What Are Cognitive Skills?|Functions Of Cognitive Skills & Ways To Boost Cognitive Skills?

What Are Cognitive Skills?

Cognitive skills are the basic skills that the brain uses. Cognitive skills are the manner, in which a person understands the world and responds to it. It refers to the mental abilities a person has and uses when awake. Some of the application of cognitive skills can be seen in reading, thinking, learning, remembering, paying attention and reasoning. Cognitive skills help in processing new information. If someone’s cognitive skills are weak, irrespective of the kind of information received, then it becomes difficult to grasp, retain and use that information. People struggle to learn because of the weakness of one or more cognitive skills.

Usually, cognitive skills are the mental abilities that form a part of all the activities humans perform consciously.

Cognitive Skills & Their Functions:

Below are given different cognitive skills, their functions and the problems you can face in case that skill is not strong:


This is the ability of a person to concentrate on a specific object, thought or action in a sustained manner and manage the demands of the surroundings.

Sustained Attention: This cognitive skill helps one to stay focused on a task for a long time. When it is weak, the person jumps between tasks and has several unfinished projects.

Selective Attention: This cognitive skill helps a person to be focused and work on a particular task even if there are distractions. When this cognitive skill is weak, the person gets distracted easily.

Divided Attention: This cognitive skill helps a person to remember information while doing two tasks at a time. When this cognitive skill is weak, the person finds it difficult to multitask and makes mistakes frequently.


Memory is an essential cognitive skill, which equips the person for retaining the learnings and experiences as well as building future knowledge base.

Long-Term Memory: Long-term memory stands for the capacity of the brain to recall information stored in the past. It refers to unlimited storage. If this particular cognitive skill is weak, then the individual would have difficulty remembering names, does poorly on tests and would forget the things they used to know.

Working Memory: Working memory refers to limited storage. Working memory lets a person remember information while using it. When this cognitive skill is weak, the person would have to read the directions again and again while being in the middle of it and would have issues following several or multi-step directions. It also becomes difficult to remember all the talks of a conversation.

Logic & Reasoning

This cognitive skill enables a person to do reasoning, solve problems and form ideas. When this cognitive skill is weak, the individual often has questions like – ‘what to do next?’ or sentences like ‘I haven’t got it’ and struggles with mathematics. They also feel stuck and overwhelmed.


The cognitive ability used here is perception and it involves recognition and interpretation. Visual and spatial processing is the way the brain processes the incoming visual stimuli and understands how objects have a relationship with each other and how they perceive visual images and scenarios.

Auditory Processing: Auditory processing is a cognitive skill that helps a person in analyzing and blending as well as segmenting sound. When this cognitive skill is weak, the person has a tough time learning how to read, reading fluency or comprehension.

Visual Processing: This cognitive skill helps in thinking visual images. If this skill is weak, the person will have difficulty in understanding what he reads, reading maps, following directions and doing mathematical problems based on words.

Processing Speed: This cognitive skill helps a person perform a task accurately and quickly. When this cognitive skill is weak, most tasks become difficult. The individual takes a long time to complete school work or job. They are also last in a group to complete something.

Motor & Language Skills

Other skills are motor and language skills. Motor skills refer to the ability to mobilize the body and its muscles and manipulate objects. Language skills refer to the ability of translating sound into words. It helps in the generation of a verbal output.

Executive Functions

Cognitive skills can also be oriented towards a goal such as the ability to plan and execute it. Flexibility is the capacity of the brain to quickly switch to the apt mental mode. The theory of mind provides some insight into the inner world of other people, their plans and their preferences. Another cognitive skill, anticipation, helps in making predictions based on the pattern recognition. Problem-solving helps in defining the correct way to solve a problem, find solutions and choose the best solution. Decision making is the ability of the brain to make decisions with the help of problem-solving when information is incomplete and also based on emotions.

Emotional self-regulation is a cognitive skill, which refers to the capacity an individual has in managing the emotions to perform well. Sequencing is the ability to break an action down from complex to a manageable level and prioritize it in the proper order. Inhibition refers to the ability to withstand any distraction as well as an internal urge. With the help of proper cognitive training, it is possible to overcome these issues and become equally competitive with rest of the society. As man ages, cognitive abilities and executive abilities are not used regularly and they begin to decline. However, by lifestyle choices and practices, this cognitive decline can be delayed. Some steps to keep the brain fit and healthy include solving brain fitness puzzle, improving concentration and memory. Now the question is- How to boost cognitive skills? To know the solutions, read on further.

Ways to Boost Cognitive Skills

Below are given some tips to boost your cognitive skills:

Train Your Memory to Boost Your Cognitive Skills

To train the memory, boring pieces of information are converted into something interesting and creative, by forming a mental image. This mental image is connected to something, to help remember them. Leaving the brain idle is very harmful and the brain has to be constantly challenged. There will be an improvement in the cognitive ability only if you flex your mind.

Meditate to Boost Your Cognitive Skills

Meditation helps in providing control to the mind. It helps in being mindful of how to handle situations and controlling your behaviour. It has an effect on a person’s professional life, stress life, and goals. Meditation can help prevent the deterioration of the brain enhances cognitive skills. It is necessary to meditate for a minimum of 10 minutes a day and stick to it.

Don’t Skip Your Workout

Exercise is very important for the body and the brain. It protects the brain from losing functionality with age, reduces the risk of having dementia, improves the memory, improves the mood and helps a person to think better and clearly. Exercise is a must for boosting one’s cognitive abilities, as it also helps in stimulating mental growth, which can improve health of the brain cells. During exercise, the blood in your body truly starts flowing and as the oxygen supply increases, it helps in dealing with mental problems.

Read to Boost Your Cognitive Performance

Reading is a great way to improve the mental capacity. With Laptops, TV and YouTube gaining popularity, reading is losing its grip. Reading is a great way to stimulate the brain and encourage imagination and critical thinking and helps the reader perceive the world differently. It is recommended that a person should read for 30 minutes before sleeping. In case you do not enjoy reading, try different genres to find the ones you like. Once reading becomes a habit, one can also to switch to self-improvement books.

Choose the Right Company for Better Cognitive Function

It is said that a person is the mixture of five people with whom most of the time he/she spends. Surrounding yourself with encouraging and positive people, as this is essential so that you can also pick up some habits from them. Being in good company is a way to be constantly motivated and inspired. So, in order to improve cognitive abilities, surround yourself with smart and knowledgeable people.

Sleep Well for Better Cognitive Function

As life keeps getting busy, sleep is usually compromised. Sleep is a crucial factor in maintaining a sharp mind and is usually neglected. Apart from relaxing the body, sleep also helps in shutting the body down temporarily and rejuvenating, fixing and rebooting it daily. The body breaks down quickly when you do not get 6-7 hours of sleep every day. Sleep deprivation also makes the memory worse and makes you more susceptible to stress. Sleep deprived people have issues with cognitive functions such as attention, memory, focus and the ability to learn new things. Sleep is also known to improve memory consolidation.

Play Games & Solve Puzzles to Boost your Cognitive Skills

Cognitive functions are kept best when the brain is active with games. Some commonly played games are Scrabble and Monopoly as they help in increasing concentration. Escape Rooms also help in improving cognitive skills as it has a series of puzzles and clues which needs to be solved to escape from the room. Some other tips for cognitive enhancement include treating depression, attending workshops as they promote active learning, visiting museums, historical sites and zoos as all this improves visual learning, solving brain teaser puzzles and learning a new hobby as they all have positive impact on the brain.

Keep Stress Away to Improve Your Cognitive Abilities

It is not possible to be completely free from stress, but it is important to handle the stress properly. When stress becomes unbearable, it is important to relax. When stress levels are too high, this leads to cognitive dysfunction in some people. High stress levels also cause depression and anxiety, as well as affect the ability to think clearly and remember things. Other than cognitive decline, physical complications of stress include feeling lethargic and fatigued. To keep stress and anxiety at bay, relax with meditation, music and some deep breaths.

Eat Healthy to Boost your Cognitive Skills

Food is very important factor in maintaining a healthy and sharp mind. Eating healthy food, especially greens and fresh fruits along with more water is beneficial. Avoid processed as well as junk food. Some foods used to improve cognitive skills are given below:

  • Wild-caught Salmon is very good for your brain, as it is rich in DHA (omega-3 oil). It helps improve memory, reduces inflammation and builds brain cells faster.
  • Walnuts are loaded with magnesium, copper and omega-3 fatty acids. They are essential to have a healthy and happy brain.
  • Kale leaves are packed with a number of vitamins such as A, C and K. They also have potassium and iron. All these help in keeping the mind sharp and healthy.
  • Avocados are filled with healthy saturated and unsaturated fats that are essential for a healthy body. Different studies show that the low-fat diet complemented by high carbohydrates increases the risk of having dementia by around 89%.
  • According to different studies, taking green tea helps in boosting the cognitive performance.
  • Different berries such as bilberries and blueberries are rich in anthocyanin, an antioxidant which improves your cognitive and memory performance.
  • Sardines and raw dairy have Vitamin D, which is required for operating the brain optimally. When the body does not get sufficient Vitamin D, the cognitive abilities reduce.

Be sure that your body is not intolerant to dairy before you have them.

Just remember, your brain is the powerhouse of your body. When the brain is not fully functional, the body responds slowly and the growth slows down. The best way to look after your brain is to take care of it naturally. However, it needs to be trained properly. When the brain is put to the test, it is possible to unlock a lot of potential.

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Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:June 2, 2018

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