Cognitive Ability- Neuropsychology of the Executive Functions
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Cognitive shifting is the brain's ability to adapt your behavior and thoughts to new, changing, or unexpected events. In other words, shifting is the ability to see that what you're doing isn't working, and make the appropriate changes to adapt to new situations.
Mental shifting is the main component in cognitive flexibility, and is so closely related that they are often referred to as the same concept. However, cognitive flexibility refers to the ability to adapt to a change, while mental shifting is the process that makes it possible to adapt to the change.
Shifting plays an important role in learning and problem solving. It allows you to choose a strategy and carry it out to adapt to the changing situation in which you find yourself. It helps capture information from the environment and respond to it flexibly and effictively, adjusting your behavior to the changes that the situation requires.
Characteristics of someone with strong cognitive shifting may be the following:
- Good mental shifting allows you to adapt quickly to changes or new situations.
- Cognitive flexibility helps tolerate changes that may occur when problem solving or carrying out a task. It allows you to create alternative solutions.
- People with good cognitive shifting are easily able to transition from one activity to another and know how to carry themselves properly in every situation.
- They can capture various dimensions of reality, see from different points of view, and recognize hidden relationships, which allows them to easily find different solutions to the same problem.
- People with mental flexibility can better tolerate errors and changes, are able to think about a situation from another person's point of view, and are easily able to find compromises.
Cognitive shifting and mental flexibility are two of the basic superior cognitive functions in metacognition, and make up part of our Executive Functions. Executive functions are a crucial part of success and proper development both at school and in daily life. It allows you to make goals, plan, and carry out the plan, supervise your own actions, and correct your behavior depending on the results.
Cognitive flexibility is related to fluid intelligence, fluid reasoning, and the ability to problem solve easily and efficiently.
Proper mental shifting and cognitive flexibility allow you to think about other ideas, values, and ways of thinking, which will help understand other people's points of view and value other's opinions. This is why mental flexibility is strongly related to empathy and social interaction.
Development of Cognitive Shifting and Mental Flexibility
Cognitive shifting, like language or motor skills, is a cognitive skill that requires the use developmental processes and cerebral maturation. Cognitive shifting usually is usually completely developed by the time we're 20 years old, after having been trained and used since birth.
Cognitive flexibility and shifting the depends on the prefrontal lobe of the brain, which is the brain structure that takes longest to mature. You may have noticed that children are prone to impatience, get upset when faced with a change in the routine, and tend to throw tantrums. All of these behaviors can be explained by their poor mental flexibility and cognitive shifting, as it is still in the early stages of development and is not fully matured.
Examples of Cognitive Shifting and Mental Flexibility
From the time you wake up to the time you go to sleep, you use your cognitive flexibility and mental shifting almost constantly. How can you see cognitive shifting in your daily life?
- One example is when you're getting ready to have breakfast and you realize that there's no milk left. What do you do? Do you get mad and go to school or work without eating? Do you go to a café and eat there? Do you have something else for breakfast? Cognitive shifting allows you to think about other options when your original plan is altered with an unexpected change.
- If your good friend stops talking to you, mental flexibility helps you think about why this may be. It allows you to think about things that have happened, and come up with a possible reason as to why they may not be talking to you. If you can think about things from other people's points of view, it helps you put yourself in their situation and think about what may have happened.
- You always take the same route to work. One day, it's pouring rain and you know that there will be traffic for miles. What do you do? You could take the train, you could leave the house early and try to get ahead of the traffic, or you could take other public transportation in hopes that you make it to work earlier. Your original plans or routine were changed by an unexpected situation, but your cognitive flexibility and shifting allow to you think of possible alternative solutions to help you get to work on time. You'll have to use the same abilities that you use when making a decision: experience, expectations, motivation, knowledge, and emotions.
- If you ring the doorbell and no one opens the door, you'll infer that no one is home rather than continuing to ring the doorbell to an empty house. Being able to understand this and look for another solution is another example of mental flexibility. You start looking for other ways to get in touch: calling the person to see where they are and if they will be back soon.
Cognitive Rigidity: Poor Cognitive Flexibility and Mental Shifting
What is cognitive rigidity? Cognitive rigidity is the consequence of a lack of mental flexibility. It could be defined as the inability to change behavior or beliefs when they are ineffective in order to reach your objective. Cognitive rigidity could cause alterations in the regulation of the behavior, creating inefficient behavioral patterns.
If you were asked to say words that begin with the letter "A", without being able to use proper nouns, and the only word you could think of was "Anthony", you would be experiencing cognitive rigidity, as you would be unable to create alternatives to "Anthony".
The feeling that this phenomenon causes is feeling "stuck", without being able to find a way out. Cognitive rigidity can have negative consequences in daily life, as you may find that there are often situations that require you to create alternative strategies or solutions.
There are different degrees of cognitive flexibility or rigidity. The earlier example would be an extreme degree of cognitive rigidity, but other cases may not be so clear. However, even lower degrees of cognitive rigidity will likely interrupt daily life (when a child has a hard time changing from subject to subject without forgetting information).
Why do some people have cognitive rigidity? The human brain likes stability and tries to avoid instability however it can. Someone with a high degree of cognitive rigidity may need to adjust to a change in a certain situation, but will be un able to adapt their behavior or way of thinking. It's normal to have a hard time adapting to changes, but people with poor mental shifting will have a much harder time than someone else.
Preservation is specifically associated with cognitive rigidity, as it is made up of a reiteration of actions that may have been effective in other situations, or that have been planned, but do not work with the current situation.
Disorders or pathologies associated with poor cognitive flexibility and mental shifting or mental rigidity
It's quite common to find cognitive rigidity among many disorders, either because it directly affects cognitive flexibility, or because the brain functions that cognitive flexibility use are altered.
Cognitive rigidity or weakened cognitive shifting and mental flexibility is often a characteristic of many neuropsychiatric disorders, like young children with attention difficulties, people who have suffered some type of brain trauma (car accident, fall, etc.), stroke, or complex disorders like Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorder (Asperger's and autism), eating disorders (anorexia nerviosa and bulemia nerviosa), people with addictions, among many others.
Older adults often suffer from problems related to mental shifting and cognitive flexibility. Aging in the brain implies functional and physical changes in the brain that hurt the brain's processing and cognitive performance. Studies show that cognitive training may have positive effects in the induction of neuroplasticity, and could be valid as a type of intervention designed to combat or rehabilitate deterioration of executive functions and cognitive shifting. CogniFit has a set of games and tasks created to help improve cognitive shifting.
Tools or tests to assess cognitive shifting or mental rigidity
The cognitive shifting assessment can be useful in various field and behaviors, like medicine, academics, professional, or learning.
The process of mental or cognitive shifting can be evaluated and measured with the help of a complete neuropsychological assessment. CogniFit's validated assessments make it possible to reliably evaluate a wide range of cognitive skills, including cognitive shifting.
In order to evaluate cognitive shifting specifically, the CogniFit program uses a variety of validated tasks that help precisely assess the user's ability to adapt to environmental changes. These tasks are based on the classic Stroop and Wisconsin Card Sorting Test (WCST).
- The Synchronization Test UPDA-SHIF: A moving ball will appear on the screen. The user will have to follow the ball with their cursor as carefully and precisely as possible.
- Simultaneity Test DIAT-SHIF: The user has to follow the randomly moving ball as carefully as possible while paying attention to the words that appear in the middle of the screen. When the word in the middle of the screen corresponds to the color in which it is written, the user must give a response. This activity requires that the user adapt to changes, creates appropriate responses, and is able to use mental shifting and visual abilities at the same time.
Aside from mental shifting, these tasks will also help you assess response time, hand-eye coordination, shifting, and inhibition.
How can you improve cognitive shifting?
As with any other cognitive ability, mental shifting can be trained, learned, and improved, and CogniFit helps you do it.
The battery of clinical exercises for cognitive stimulation from CogniFit allows you to train main cognitive skills and executive functions.
The cognitive stimulation program from CogniFit was created by a team of scientists and cognitive psychologists who study neuroplasticity and neurogenesis. The patented system from CogniFit firsts evaluates mental shifting and other fundamental cognitive functions. The program gathers the data collected from the assessment and automatically creates a complete personalized cognitive training program designed to help improve cognitive shifting and other executive functions.
A challenging and consistent brain training regimen is the best way to improve executive functions and the mental processes used in cognitive shifting. CogniFit is a tool used by the scientific community, schools, and medical centers around the world. All you need is 15 minutes a day, 2-3 times a week.
This program is available online and is suitable for adults and children aged 6+. The exercises are presented as fun and entertaining brain games that can be played on mobile devices and computers. After each session, CogniFit will provide a detailed graph with the user's cognitive cognitive progress, which makes it easy to stay on track.