We humans have the nervous system that allows us to perform many mental processes, which in turn allows us to have a lot of cognitive skills that we adaptively use to adapt and survive.
Of this huge amount of abilities, some are more fundamental to us than others. Throughout this article we will be referring to some of the most important cognitive skills.
The most important cognitive skills
There are many cognitive skills that we have and constantly use to survive, most of the time even unconsciously. Some of the fifteen most important are as follows.
One of the most basic cognitive skills, attention enables us focus our cognitive resources so that we can operate and work with them.
Within it we can include capacities such as maintaining it, dividing it, moving it away from the stimulation already perceived previously to save cognitive resources. Orientation responses to outgoing stimuli are also included, allowing us to activate and react to potential threats.
Being able to encode, collect and retrieve information is essential when faced with generate learning experiences that allow us to acquire a specific ability or skill to mentally operate with information or even generate memories that will become part of our history.
They include working memory (fundamental for all information processing), declarative (including episodic) and non-declarative, short and long term.
Interestingly, little taken into account when thinking of cognitive skills, it is a fundamental ability without which we could not have an identity.
It is about being able to recognize oneself, to consider oneself as an independent being from the rest of the environment. It also allows us to be able to have and self-manage a personal story and to regulate and make the learning meaningful.
This skill has always been considered extremely important, to the point that in the past it was considered what separated us from the rest of the animals.
The ability to reason enables us to draw conclusions from observing reality and act accordingly. We can include inductive reasoning (going from particular cases to general axioms), deductive reasoning (deducing from what is general how the behavior of particular cases will be) and hypothetico-deductive.
5. Motivation and goal setting
Motivation enables humans to acquire and feel the energy and momentum necessary to initiate and maintain a specific action plan, Allowing us to define and actively pursue our goals and objectives. The complete lack of motivation could even prevent us from looking for food or water to survive.
6. Ability to associate
Being able to relate to different events is a fundamental ability not only for human beings but for any type of living being with the capacity to learn. In fact, it is the basis of any type of learning.
7. Cognitive flexibility
If we always maintained our perspective and our view of things, we could not learn not to face something that is contrary to our way of understanding reality. Being flexible allows us to adapt to new conditions and change our patterns according to what experience dictates to us.
It also allows us to be able to adopt different perspectives and understand the motivations and thoughts of others, Be a great help for socialization.
8. Problem solving
Deeply linked to the above, the ability to use the knowledge acquired, organize it and link it in the search for a solution to the problems that we encounter.
9. Creativity and lateral thinking
Generating new strategies beyond the information and methods available to us so far has allowed human beings to evolve, for example, helping to generate new technologies, techniques and procedures that allow us to achieve our goals or solve a problem in the most efficient way.
Perceptual ability is something we usually take for granted, but the truth is, we can take it as one of the essential cognitive skills. This is the ability to transforming sense signals into information with which our brain is able to work to perceive in a coordinated way, for example, the different information that makes up an image or what a person tells us
11. Management of inhibitions and behaviors
It is as important to do something as it is not to do it or to inhibit our patterns of behavior already initiated to deal with new information or changing strategies in case they are not effective. This allows us to save time and effort, when we do not directly avoid dangers and can adapt to the environment.
12. Anticipation and planning
The past is important, but it is the ability to plan and anticipate results that allows us to begin to establish appropriate plans and actions to achieve our goals. It also allows us assess the risks and benefits, As well as the possible consequences of our actions.
13. Symbolization and interpretation
A fundamental thing for human beings is the ability to generate elements that allow them to represent an idea, as well as the ability to value what a particular action or symbol implies. This allows us for example communicate with our peers and socialize, Something peremptory for a gregarious species like ours.
More than a cognitive skill could be seen as an activity or a product of it, the truth is that language is a fundamental ability to relate and convey information. We’re not just talking about speeches but also literacy, gestures or expressions.
A cognitive skill of great relevance is being able to value and think about one’s own cognition. Metacognition allows us to take into account our abilities and knowledge, now to analyze the type of information we lack to understand a situation or to optimize and improve our abilities.
- Lycan, WG, (ed.). (1999). Mind and Cognition: An Anthology, 2nd Edition. Malden, Mass: Blackwell editors.
- Stanovitch, Keith (2009). What Intelligence Tests Are Missing: The Psychology of Rational Thinking. New Haven (CT): Yale University Press.
- Von Eckardt, Barbara (1996). What is cognitive science? Massachusetts: MIT Press.