The human brain has a vast amount of different functions, but the main domains of neurocognition are:
Let’s break down what each of these domains are, and how they may be improved upon through cognitive exercises.
Memory is a cognitive ability that allows us to encode, store, and recall information. There are three main types of memory: sensory, long-term, and short-term. Long-term memory allows us to store and remember information related to our lives or general information related to our environment. Short-term memory allows us to retain a limited amount of information for a brief period to complete daily activities, such as remembering the steps completed and needed to be done to prepare a meal. Sensory memory allows us to perceive the information around us. Strong memory processes are essential for our survival and daily interaction with our environment. Memory processes occur in the hippocampus along with input from other brain regions.
Frontal and parietal networks allow for the ability to pay attention to visual stimuli. Visual attention is needed for skills such as driving, where select objects within view should be attended to while distractions should be ignored.
This specific cognitive skill can be impaired when damage occurs along with the frontoparietal network, causing people to become easily distracted and overwhelmed when they have to attend to and filter visual stimuli in their environment while completing a task.
Language is a cognitive ability that relies on cognitive skills such as verbal memory, verbal reasoning, and both visual and auditory processing. When we are young, we acquire language through the words that we hear spoken around us. The ability to understand and produce language comes from Broca’s area, located in the left hemisphere. Also located in the left hemisphere is Wernicke’s area, which allows people to produce fluent and sensible speech. The right hemisphere is also involved in language processing by helping people understand figurative language and idiomatic speech. Language disorders can occur from developmental or medical conditions, causing people to seek treatment.
Response time or processing speed is a common measure in psychological research experiments. Clinically, processing speed is a measure of how quickly information is processed to achieve a desired behavior. In clinical populations, processing speed can be impacted when lesions, atrophy, and other forms of brain damage occur within cortical and subcortical regions of the brain. This can cause people to feel frustrated and act hastily in a way that is unfavorable to their safety. Working on this skill is vital to help your client be able to make quick, accurate, and precise decisions that can benefit them long-term.
Auditory processing is a complex cognitive process. Sound comes in through our ears, bounces off of our eardrums, and is relayed through nerve signals to our brain. These signals come in the forms of pitch and amplitude which activate our cerebellum. When these sounds are spoken word, these signals get relayed to our language network where sentences and words are extracted for meaning and processed in order for us to respond to.
People may have difficulty with auditory processing due to brain damage from a stroke or fall, aging, or experiencing a psychiatric condition. Providing cognitive remediation therapy that focuses on skills such as distinguishing relevant from irrelevant sounds, differentiating sounds from one another, and remembering what different people sound like may help your client process and remember auditory information for current and later use better.
Executive functioning refers to the cognitive processes responsible for planning, decision-making, regulating behavior, and inhibiting undesirable behaviors. Executive functions predominantly occur in the brain’s frontal lobe, which connects to many other key brain areas such as the amygdala. Executive functioning is needed for everyday tasks, such as driving, making plans with friends, and performing well in the workplace or in school.
Visual-spatial skills allow us to orient ourselves in space, perceive objects in our environment, construct a scene, and mentally manipulate objects when they are not present. For example, we use visual-spatial skills to walk to a table at a restaurant without bumping into other guests. Because of the complexity of visual information, visual-spatial skills use the input and output of multiple brain regions. Namely, the temporal lobes, parietal lobes, occipital lobes, and lateral prefrontal cortex are all involved in developing and executing visual-spatial skills. Children and adults can have difficulty with visual-spatial skills due to various medical conditions.
Social cognition refers to the cognitive processes involved in any form of socializing. This includes many factors, such as one’s perception of themselves and others, the processing of information in a social context, as well as judgments made around social situations. We used social cognition in our daily lives to interact with others. Social cognition is supported by many areas of the brain, including the amygdala and the medial prefrontal cortex. The medial prefrontal cortex is associated with the perception of self, while the amygdala helps us make judgments about others. When social cognition becomes impaired, it deeply affects the individual’s life because they may not be able to communicate well or may be unable to accurately perceive communication from others or a combination of both of these.
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