Three Cognitive Functions
Attention is the cognitive process and ability to ignore other environmental distractions while at the same time giving full concentration to a particular aspect or aspects within the environment. It can actually be viewed as the ability to allocate the processing resources by an individual. Development of attention as part of the human development from birth to adulthood can be placed within the stages of human development that were extensively studied by researchers such as Piaget and Erikson. Attention and cognition in general was studied by entirely different individuals either taking a philosophical view or psychology. Attention is a major cognition resource that provides us with the ability to organize ideas and minimize or avoid confusion. It can generally be categorized into three. We have selective attention and divided attention. The former constitutes focusing on one aspect while ignoring all the rest while the latter comprises focusing on more than one aspect within the environment. The third category is sustained attention, which is the ability to focus on an aspect for extended period (Clive et al 2003).
Factors that enhance development of attention include presence of appropriate stimulus such as loud noise, appropriate colors and aesthetics. These are external factors that enhance attention. Childhood experiences can affect and deteriorate attention. For instance abusive upbringing may make an individual to fail to focus on the intended aspect but rather retreat to their inner self. The state of the mind also affects attention. A tranquil individual has higher likelihood of paying attention than another person who is disturbed. Environmentally or in terms of the external immediate environment, presence of many conflicting stimuli can affect or slow attention. Diseases and mental disorders impair this cognitive function (Medalia & Nadine, 2012). Such diseases include schizophrenia, trauma, TBI, and brain infections among others.
Memory is the cognition process that provides the ability to store and retrieve ideas about experiences and interactions with the environment. It could either be short-term or long-term with the former constituting the ability to retain information while using it. The latter type of memory is the ability to store and retrieve information for later use (Medalia & Nadine, 2012). Memory has been found to decline with age (Medalia & Nadine, 2012). People at an advanced stage in life are easily confused since their working memory is reduced at that age. Even the long-term memory is also reduced at the advanced ages. Other factors, besides age, that affect memory include emotion and odor. Emotion enhances memory especially autobiographical memories. Odors also enhance memory. Memory has been found to be hampered by previous knowledge due to retroactive interference. State of the mind, especially stress, also affects memory. While stress negatively impacts memory, memory can be enhanced by linking the material or aspect to the stress or stressor. Even though there haven’t been long-term follow up studies that investigated effects of various factors on memory, various research studies have shown that fatigue, nutrition, lack of body exercise, intellectual inactivity and emotional instability all deteriorate memory function. Substance abuse and drugs can impact negatively on memory. Therefore, improving memory based on these observations would entail being physically active, staying intellectually active, eating healthy nutritionally, avoiding depression or emotional instability and maintaining sleep time regularly (Shinjini & Sunita 2001).
Cognitive thinking is the process in which an individual uses reasoning time after time to reach a logical conclusion. Cognitive thinking is basically a learned process. While thinking is generally the generation of ideas, cognitive or logical thinking involves reasoning hence effective establishment of structure in the facts of the ideas being generated and organization of these ideas into chains that make sense. Therefore, as a learned process, thinking level advances with age as experience in the sequential use of reasoning increase. In addition, training also improves thinking process as one learns how to use logical thinking to reject quick answers and employ a step-by-step thinking process top arrive at a solution. Cognitive thinking can be impeded by inherent biases such as fallacious beliefs and dogma. An individual with dogmatic ideas may fail to think properly and brush off some things rather than applying reasoning to evaluate them. Biasness also can make an individual to lack a balanced approach in the thinking process by thinking that the biased stance is the absolute solution to the particular situation. Since thinking is a learned process or function, learning disorders can also impede the ability to acquire proper thinking. Drugs and substance abuse can impair thinking capacity as well as memory and attention. With respect to the relationship between substance abuse and thinking, consider a drunken person walking wobbly on a street. This individual may fail to think properly to know that it is not only indecent to make call of nature in public but may actually go ahead and do it on the wall nearby and at the same time hurl insults at people.
In comparison for differences and similarities in factors that boost and impede the three cognitive processes, one major difference found was that while memory declines with age, logical thinking improves with age. This might explain the fact that old age people are associated with wisdom and short memory or memory lapses. Attention also declines with age. In addition, as a learned process thinking level improves with consistent exposure to training. On the contrary, it was established that prior knowledge or exposure to an aspect messes up memory in the current learning process and that is why it becomes easier to train a child who has never had any exposure than an adult who has some prior knowledge since the prior knowledge of the adult will cause retroactive interference.
On the part of similarities, it was found that all the three cognitive functions are impacted negative by mental diseases, disorders and drugs or substance abuse (Phillips & Bernhard, 2003). Training and cognitive intervention can also boost the efficacy of the three cognitive functions. Culture is another notable similarity in the factors that impact cognitive ability. For instance, culture of certain communities enables individuals to effectively concentrate on more than one activity. That is attention. The same culture allows these people to have superb memory and think logically to draw the difference between facts and opinions or illusions and reality. Such professions and communities include cryptologists (or investigators) and Mayans respectively.
Medalia, A., & Nadine, R. (2012) Dealing with Cognitive Dysfunction Associated with psychiatric disabilities: A handbook for families and friends of individuals with psychiatric disorders. Walter Boppert, OMH Bureau of Public Information
Clive Ballard, Elise Rowan, Sally Stephens, Raj Kalaria, Rose Anne Kenny, (2003) Prospective Follow-Up Study Between 3 and 15 Months After Stroke Improvements and Decline in Cognitive Function Among Dementia-Free Stroke Survivors >75 Years of Age. Journal of Stroke (34): 2440-2444 DOI: 10.1161/01.STR.0000089923.29724.CE
Shinjini Bhatnagar & Sunita Taneja (2001) Zinc and cognitive development. British Journal of Nutrition 85 (2): 139-145
Phillips, K. A & Bernhard, J (2003) Adjuvant Breast Cancer Treatment and Cognitive Function: Current Knowledge and Research Directions. Journal of the National Cancer Institute 95 (3): 190-197. doi: 10.1093/jnci/95.3.190.