Language is part of cognition. But what is cognition?

In this blog I explain:

  1. What is meant by cognition
  2. Which skills fall under the term cognition.
  3. Using an everyday example of how different cognitive skills work together.

What is cognition?

Roughly speaking, all the processes in the brain that we need to think, acquire knowledge and perceive our world…We process everything that we perceive with our senses (hearing, seeing, smelling, touching, feeling, tasting). In the process, we sort out which of these are important sensory impressions and which are better to block out (e.g. when we are on the phone, we listen to what our conversation partner is saying and ignore the music in the background). We remember similar experiences and link them to already stored knowledge (e.g. we taste a new fruit and notice that it is just as juicy as the apples we normally eat). Dabei sortieren wir, was davon wichtige Sinneseindrücke sind und welche wir besser ausblenden (wenn wir z.B. am Telefon sind, hören wir zu, was unser Gesprächspartner sagt und ignorieren die Musik im Hintergrund), wir erinnern uns an ähnliche Erlebnisse und verknüpfen sie mit bereits gespeichertem Wissen (z.B. schmecken wir eine neue Frucht und merken, dass sie genauso saftig ist wie die Äpfel, die wir normalerweise essen).

Which skills belong to cognition?

Here is an example from our everyday life to explain the different skills: The problem – the child cannot reach something without help. Ragnar really wanted his piggy bank from the dresser. He was excited. He was eager to know if he already had enough money for a new Lego car. This emotion and motivation were starting points for his action. He focused his attention on the piggy bank on the dresser. Other things were ignored (e.g. the other toys were ignored). He looked at the dresser. He noticed that it was too high to reach the piggy bank. He caught sight of a seat cushion. He remembered that it was light enough to lift. So he used his memory to recall an old experience. The question now was whether it was high enough to reach the pig. He dragged it in front of the dresser and climbed on. Shoot, he still couldn’t get to it. So he used his perception to check size, distances, etc. to see if the seat cushion would help him reach his goal. Unfortunately, it didn’t. So he needed an alternative. He had to think about it. That’s when his eyes fell on a child’s chair. The chair was about the same height as the cushion, so he concluded that the child’s chair wouldn’t help him either. This learning process helped him not to carry the child’s chair in front of the dresser as well, but to go straight for my office chair. However, because it is very heavy, he used his language to ask his sister to help him push it. Together they heaved the chair into the nursery. Finally, he got on the chair and pulled down the piggy bank. He was pleased (emotion) that he had completed the task and solved the problem. I was not particularly thrilled (emotion ;-)) that he had taken the wobbly chair. I asked him to ask for help next time or to take something that is more stable and safe. So I gave him alternative options to achieve his goal. Let’s see if he remembered that (memory) and really uses new problem solving strategies next time 😉.

What the example hopefully illustrates, we use any number of cognitive processes to accomplish tasks, solve problems, or gain control over our living environment. Attention, perception, memory, learning, language, emotions, and motivation are all crucial in this process.

So, the next time you catch your child raiding the cookie jar, don’t just be grumpy, but also rejoice in the complex task your little one has accomplished 😉.

A more complex concept, which you also read about again and again in connection with cognitive abilities, are the executive functions. They are said to be necessary to act in a goal-oriented way, to control our thoughts, feelings and actions. Control always sounds so negative, but we have to do this every day, for example when we really don’t feel like doing the tax return and would rather watch our favourite show on Netflix. If you want to learn more about executive functions, read this blog.

So, now I’m thinking about how I’m going to manage to cook dinner for tonight within the next hour. While adjusting the recipe because I’m missing 3 of the ingredients, making an appointment for my next dental checkup, and picking up the kids from kindergarten. – Multitasking, the daily art of mums. Sorry, but dads are often hopelessly overwhelmed when it comes to doing multiple things at once. I promise to back up this claim with scientific studies soon 😊.

Take care,

Yours Blanca

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