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At Arrowsmith, cognitive functions are at the heart of everything we do. But what exactly are cognitive functions, and how do they shape our lives?  

In this blog, we provide an overview of cognitive functions, and the promising science used to strengthen them. 

Stay tuned for our next blog, A Quick Guide to 10 Cognitive Functions, where we will be taking this discussion one step further -  looking at 10 key cognitive functions within our brains.  

 What is a Cognitive Function? 

The brain is central to everything we do. Its design is a series of highways and stations – networks and connections that collaborate to shape our every thought and action.  

These networks and the specialized regions within the networks have specific jobs or roles to play within intellectual processes – what at Arrowsmith we call cognitive functions. Some of these cognitive functions are active in every conscious moment, while others are more active during particular tasks. Whether higher order or foundational, these cognitive functions are critical in our daily navigation of the world. 

There are trillions of connections in our brains, and many regions and networks. Arrowsmith has identified multiple cognitive functions that underpin learning and performance. 

Everyday Activities: Cognitive functions essential for daily life activities such as decision-making, problem-solving, and learning. These functions enable individuals to interact with their environment, communicate with others, and complete various tasks, such as cooking, driving, and shopping. 

Education and Learning: Cognitive functions critical for learning and education. They underlie academic and social skills and enable individuals to develop critical life skills like collaboration, communication and critical thinking.  They are essential to success in academic settings. 

Professional Life: Cognitive functions that are critical in the workplace include processes that enable task completion, decision-making, and efficient problem solving.  Individuals with secure cognitive competency are more productive, creative, and successful in their careers. 

Cognitive Functions At “Play” 

Think of our brains as an orchestra, with cognitive functions being instruments. Each instrument has a unique sound and must execute their sound according to the piece of music. Of course, music is hugely varied – from simple melodies to complex symphonies. 

Each type of music (intellectual task) requires different instruments (cognitive functions) to be called upon to play.  

Like instruments, cognitive functions are highly specialized, each responsible for a specific role. Rarely does an instrument play alone for an extended period of time. Similarly, cognitive functions do not operate in isolation, but are active together to complete a task. Let’s take a simple math problem for example, what’s happening in our brains? 

Even to solve the simplest math problem (imagine, Sarah has two apples, Johnny has three…) as many as six different cognitive functions are active, each responsible for a different part of the task.  

  • read/decode the question
  • grasp the essence of the question
  • understand the question conceptually
  • identify the necessary mathematical operation
  • calculate
  • jot down the answer 

From simple nursery rhymes to a magnificent opus– our lives are made up of millions of pieces of music. How well the orchestra performs together, determines the sound. Now let’s listen to the music – exquisite, or noise?  

Our Unique Brains 

Not all music is beautiful, or well played. Another important aspect of these cognitive functions – they operate on a scale from weak to strong, or somewhere in between. The degree of their individual functioning directly impacts our learning experiences.  How?  

Simply put, it depends. It depends on our unique cognitive makeup, and the task we are facing.  

Remember our orchestra. Consider the piece of music, and when all instruments are in tune, and their musicians’ capable and well-practiced. The sound is splendid.  

Now consider an instrument is out of tune, the musician out of practice. What if one of the strings is broken? Without a doubt, it will impact the overall sound of the piece. Consider multiple instruments or musicians struggling. The piece might be impossible to play.   

Ultimately, the strengths and weaknesses of our cognitive functions make up each of our “cognitive profiles”.   

Are you interested in understanding your own cognitive profile? Take our free Cognitive Profile Questionnaire. It will take you approximately 30 minutes and will provide you with a report of your unique profile. 

Discover Your Cognitive Profile

At any moment, our unique brains are active, and over the course of the day, required to solve thousands of tasks every day. Our success at any task - planning a budget, studying for an exam, listening to a podcast – at any age – will be determined by the cognitive functions involved, and the capacity or level of functioning of each of them.  

Our unique profiles shape how we see ourselves and others, how others see us, who we are and how we perform in specific situations.  

Interested in a more detailed look at cognitive functions and how they impact our day-to-day life? Watch our free webinar, The Brain: Our Most Important Asset, the first in our five-part series that examines our brain’s complexity and extraordinary capacity to change.

Cognitive Functions Can be Enhanced 

Here’s the good news.  

Our brains can change, for the better. While cognitive capacities vary from function to function and from person to person, these are not permanent or fixed states. In fact, like physical exercise for our bodies, we can improve our brain’s health.  

For decades Arrowsmith has been using the principles of neuroplasticity, to target and strengthen cognitive functions through specialized programming. From 6 to 90+, participants enhance functions essential in learning and performance, fundamentally changing the way their brains operate. What does this mean?  

It means we can all face a different experience in our day to day lives and in our long-term goals. We can remember the details of that article we read last week, we can reach for and earn that promotion. Our children can develop independence in their thinking, problem solving and reasoning. They can grow up with a strong and compassionate sense of themselves and their role in the world. 

Individuals who struggle with learning or mental health issues can transform their capacity to acquire essential academic and emotional skills. Seniors can build brain health and even stave off the effects of aging on cognition.  

Given that cognitive functions are involved in everything we do throughout our lifetime, doesn’t it seem a worthwhile pursuit to improve them?  

You, your child, students, or clients, deserve a stronger cognitive profile. Contact us to explore the possibilities.  


Tara Bonner
Post by Tara Bonner
April 4, 2023
Tara Bonner collaborates with professionals and educators worldwide, envisioning the convergence of learning and neuroscience. Tara has witnessed that cognitive programming can be a transformative force not just for struggling learners, but for all seeking to experience learning with ease and joy. She's honored to be part of these discussions and an organization that's revolutionizing education by putting the "Brain in Education."