What Is Cognition And What Skills Does It Involve?

What are cognitive functions?

Cognition. It’s a word we hear all the time. However, exactly what is cognition and how big of a role does it play in our lives?

In short, cognition is our ability to process information, and cognitive thinking plays a hugely (hugely) important role in our lives. However, the actual reality of cognition is much more grand and perplexing than we can rightfully express in words (nonetheless a single sentence).

In this article, though, we will do our best to explain exactly what cognition is and the various cognitive skills we get to improve over time.

What is cognition?

If it’s in your excitement, take a moment to imagine all of the thoughts going on in your head. Imagine them as if they existed in physical form, swirling and twirling, rapidly all throughout your mind.

Pretty wild, right? Well, that’s just a tiny fraction of the action. This is just the thoughts we are aware of — we aren’t aware of most of our cognitive functions. Somehow, though, our consciousness is able to sort through this dizzying maze of electrical firing and coherently move through them, one at a time, in an organized train of thought.

Hardly introducing… Cognition.

Cognition is responsible for all of our  thinking processes; the endless perception, problem-solving, judgment, memory, language, and knowledge acquisition.

What are cognitive skills?

To us at Mindvalley, the most exciting thing about learning about cognition is that we get to improve our cognitive skills and abilities. The more we understand the basis of cognitive thinking and these skills, the more we are able to improve them and become our best possible selves.

So, what are cognitive skills?

A running cognitive skills definition goes as follows: Cognitive skills are the main skills our brains use to think, learn, remember, reason, read, and sustain attention.

In order for full cognition to take place, all of these varying aspects of cognition must work together. Since each of these skills play a vital role in processing information (cognition), if one goes weak, the whole cognitive system struggles.

Without further adieu, here is a list of each of our cognitive skills.

Note: Since cognition is such a complex process, there are quite a few versions of this list as many researchers have their own verbiage, categorization, and perception of the exact cognitive skills definition. However, the list below is widely agreed upon.

What are cognitive skills and how are they useful?


  • Sustained Attention allows you to stay focused for a certain time period
  • Selective Attention allows you to stay focused on a particular task while blocking out distractions
  • Divided Attention allows you to multitask — focus on more than one thing at a time


  • Visual Processing allows you to think in and perceive visual images
  • Auditory Processing allows you to process, blend, analyze, and segment sounds
  • Processing Speed allows you to access information and perform tasks with speed and accuracy


  • Long-Term Memory allows you to remember information that was stored at a previous time
  • Working/Short-term Memory is lasting for about 15-30 seconds at a time, this enables you to store information while you are in the process of currently using it


Rational thinking vs. logical reasoning

There are two cognitive skills we didn’t mention above: logical reasoning and rational thinking. We saved them for their own sections because these two terms often leave people feeling a bit discombobulated — what’s the difference?

Although these two cognitive thinking skills are generally clumped together as one, they are entirely different processes.

Rational Thinking

Thinking rationally is much more humanistic than thinking logically. Rational thought is a state of reasoning (or being reasonable) that can only be judged by humans. Generally, a very “rational person” is one that is able to make decisions without letting bias and emotion get in the way.

For instance, court judges need to be very rational thinkers. Someone who is able to step away from the drama of a situation and think clearly about a fair result is considered very rational. Rational thinking helps to promote freedom and fairness.

Logical Reasoning

Logic, on the other hand, is a type of reasoning that can be shown to be absolutely correct using mathematical proof. Even verbal statements and arguments can be dissected mathematically. Logical reasoning is cold, calculated, and absolute.

It is often claimed that thinking too logically can inhibit ingenuity and creative achievement. However, logical thinking is a useful trait for scientists and mathematicians.

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Which of these cognitive skills do you think is your strongest? Which could you work to improve? Share with us in the comments below!


Natasha is a happy no-mad with a love for living lucidly, dancing with fire, and talking to strangers. From living with Shamans in the Amazon to studying ancient hieroglyphs in Egypt, she is always on some type of adventure. Her mission is to connect with many hearts, walk in many shoes, and help people to understand their value. Every day, she wakes up with two goals: 1.) Be here 2.) Be love.

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