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Have you ever wondered why you can do complex mathematics, like abstract algebra, yet have trouble remembering a phone number?

Have you ever wondered why someone can spell well and read words on a page accurately, yet not understand what is being read? Or why your very intellectual friend has so much trouble with social interactions?

The interplay of various cognitive functions in our lives can give us a clue to the answer. In this blog, we dive deeper into various cognitive functions that we use everyday in our actions and thoughts, whether that be at school or work or home. 

This blog is a companion to our previous blog titled “Cognitive Function Definition: An Overview”, where we learned why cognitive functions are so important and how they play out in our lives. This blog will provide details into some of the cognitive functions that most impact our daily experiences.

Are you interested in learning the strengths and weaknesses of your, or your child’s cognitive functions? Book an Arrowsmith Assessment today and gain a better understanding of your unique cognitive profile. 

Learn About the Arrowsmith Cognitive Assessment

1 - Motor Symbol Sequencing

The Motor Symbol Sequencing cognitive function gives us our ability to learn and produce motor plans in writing, reading and speech. Examples of tasks that require Motor Symbol Sequencing include activities such as writing, typing, copying material quickly in writing, reading quickly and accurately..

Good Motor Symbol Sequencing abilities are important for many activities of daily living, including written and verbal communication and reading. 

Signs of a weakness in this cognitive function: Messy handwriting, miscopying, irregular spelling, speech rambling, careless written errors in mathematics or poor written performance.

2 - Symbol Relations

The Symbol Relations cognitive function gives us our ability to understand the relationships among two or more ideas or concepts. Examples of Symbol Relations function tasks include reasoning, reading an analog clock, understanding math concepts, understanding jokes, having insight into why things happen. 

The Symbol Relations function is an essential component of many cognitive processes, such as comprehension, mathematical reasoning, and problem-solving. Enhanced Symbol Relations function is associated with higher levels of academic achievement and cognitive flexibility.

Signs of a weakness in this cognitive function: Difficulty with reading comprehension, trouble with mathematical reasoning, trouble with logical reasoning, difficulty reading an analog clock, problem understanding cause and effect.

3 - Memory for Information and Instructions

The Memory for Information and Instructions function gives us our ability to remember chunks of unrelated auditory information. Examples of a Memory for Information and Instructions task would include recalling facts or a set of instructions. 

Enhanced Memory for Information and Instructions leads to increase in general knowledge, stronger auditory memory and a greater ability to retain information. 

Signs of a weakness in this cognitive function: Trouble remembering oral instructions, difficulty following lectures or extended conversations, and problems acquiring information through listening.

4 - Predicative Speech

The Predicative Speech function gives us our ability to see how words and numbers interconnect sequentially into fluent sentences and procedures. Predicative Speech function is an important component of language and communication, as it allows individuals to convey their thoughts, intentions, and expectations to others. Examples of Predicative Speech tasks would be putting information into one’s own words or rehearsing one’s actions inside one’s head through the use of internal speech.

A strong Predicative Speech function is associated with higher levels of social communication skills and the ability to rehearse one’s actions through the use of internal speech before carrying out the actions, so one’s behaviour is more considered.

Signs of a weakness in this cognitive function: Problems putting information into one’s own words, speaking in incomplete sentences, difficulty using internal speech to rehearse actions, trouble following long sentences, and issues with the breakdown of steps in mathematical procedures.

5 - Broca’s Speech Pronunciation

The Broca’s Speech Pronunciation function gives us the ability to learn to pronounce syllables and then integrate them into the stable and consistent pronunciation of a word. This function is named after Paul Broca, a French neurologist who discovered a region of the brain responsible for speech production, known as Broca's area.

Broca's Speech Pronunciation function is essential in learning how to read and spell, specifically through phonics-based approaches. It’s also critical for effective communication, as it enables individuals to be confident in their expression of ideas and information. 

Signs of a weakness in this cognitive function: Mispronouncing words, avoiding using words because of uncertainty of pronunciation, limited ability to learn and use phonics, difficulty learning foreign languages. Could cause issues with thinking and talking at the same time, as well as flat and monotone speech with lack of rhythm and intonation.

6 - Symbolic Thinking

The Symbolic Thinking function gives us the ability to develop and maintain plans and strategies through the use of language. It gives us the ability to problem solve, set goals, and focus our attention. 

Examples of Symbolic Thinking function tasks include planning strategies to complete a task, setting a goal and evaluating the plan as one moves through execution and modifying as required, making a plan B if plan A doesn’t work, keeping one’s focus on the goal.

Signs of a weakness in this cognitive function: Problem with maintaining attention, being self-directed and self-organized in learning, limited mental initiative, difficulty planning, problem solving, and trouble seeing the main point.

7 - Symbol Recognition

Symbol Recognition function refers to the ability to identify and remember symbols, such as letters and numbers. This function is a critical component of fundamental academic skill development including reading, writing, and math. Our brain’s Symbol Recognition is designed to remember all letter and number patterns we see, so when we see it again, we recall and compare it to our memory. Essential in sight reading, learning spelling conventions, and also in remembering equations (consider a2 + b2 = c2 or CO2 + H2O → C6H12O6 + O2).

The Symbol Recognition function enables the learning of traffic signs, musical notes and success in a range of games and puzzles that rely on our memory of symbols. Think word searches.

Signs of a weakness in this cognitive function: Poor word recognition, slow reading, difficulty with spelling, as well as trouble remembering symbol patterns such as mathematical or chemical equations.

8 - Lexical Memory

Lexical memory is our ability to remember several unrelated words. Lexical Memory function involves storing and organizing a vast network of words in the brain and retrieving them quickly and accurately when needed. This function is essential for language development, reading comprehension, and effective communication.

Examples of Lexical Memory function tasks include remembering the names of things, and using words appropriately in speech or writing.

Signs of a weakness in this cognitive function: Problems with associative memory, as well as trouble learning names of things such as animals, places, people, colors, days of the week.

9 - Non-Verbal Thinking

Non-Verbal Thinking function refers to the ability to accurately perceive and interpret non-verbal information. This function allows individuals to use non-verbal cues and feedback to modify one’s behaviour, have empathy and emotional intelligence, and understand one’s own emotions.

Examples of non-verbal thinking function tasks include reading social cues, planning and strategizing in social situations, and negotiation.

Signs of a weakness in this cognitive function: Problems interpreting non-verbal information such as body language, facial expression and voice tone, weak social skills, acting inappropriately in a social setting, behaving impulsively, as well as difficulty thinking, planning, and problem solving non-verbally.

10 - Quantification Sense

The Quantification Sense function gives us our ability to have a sense of number and quantity. This cognitive function is necessary in order to understand and manipulate numerical concepts, including quantity, magnitude, and measurement, and to understand numbers related to time, distance, money and measurement. 

Examples of Quantification Sense function tasks include counting, measuring, estimating, calculating change, learning math facts, and budgeting.

Signs of a weakness in this cognitive function: Finger counting, trouble retaining numbers in one’s head, difficulty making change, problem learning math facts, poor sense of time management, and difficulty with time signature in music.

Why It’s Important to Know these 10 Cognitive Functions

As we discussed in our previous blog, “Cognitive Function Definition: An Overview”, any number of cognitive functions work together in all aspects of our lives, whether we are working, learning or socializing.

Our unique combinations of cognitive strengths and weaknesses shape who we are, and how we are seen by others. The more we understand the essence of these cognitive functions, and our own capacity in them, the more we can come to understand ourselves, and others. As a result, we can build greater compassion, awareness, and think about next steps. We see ourselves and others with a Cognitive Lens. 

This is why it’s critical to understand your unique cognitive profile. When you understand the cognitive functions that are not operating as effectively in your life as you’d like, you can start to implement the principles of neuroplasticity and targeted cognitive exercises to help strengthen those weaker cognitive functions and, ultimately, change your brain. 

Interested in learning more? Reach out to our team of brain change experts for your Arrowsmith Assessment. 

Learn About the Arrowsmith Cognitive Assessment


Debbie Gilmore
Post by Debbie Gilmore
April 11, 2023
Debbie Gilmore is a passionate change-maker and Executive Director of Arrowsmith, dedicated to transforming education and learning worldwide. With over 40 years of experience spanning classrooms to administrative roles, she's driving educational reform. Debbie collaborates globally with educators and professionals in a wide field to help them bring about cognitive enhancement to unlock every human’s potential.