Cognitive skills list (A complete guide)

Cognitive skills are those that allow the individual to know, think, store information, organize and transform it to generate new products, carry out operations such as establishing relationships, formulating generalizations, making determinations, solving problems and achieving learning.

Of this enormous amount of capabilities, some are more fundamental to us than others. Throughout this article we are going to refer to some of the most important cognitive skills.

Cognitive skills list

Some examples of cognitive skills are:

  • Orientation.
  • Attention.
  • Memory.
  • Language.
  • Creativity-
  • Visuospatial skills.

Cognition or cognitive skills are the mental processes that allow us to receive, process and elaborate information. They allow the subject to have an active role in the processes of interaction, perception and understanding of the environment, which allows him to function in the world around him.

Cognitive skills allow us to carry out any task, for that reason we use them continuously to learn and remember information, integrate personal history and identity, manage information related to the moment in which the subject is and where it is going, maintain and distribute attention, recognize different sounds, process different stimuli, perform calculations or mentally represent an object.

All the activities we carry out require the use of our brain functions, which implies millions of neural connections distributed throughout the brain lobes and the activation of different areas of the brain to cope adequately with our environment and process the information that we obtain through various channels.


Attention is one of the most complex functions of the brain about which to date there is no closed definition and accepted by all. It is a function that allows us to filter stimuli, process information and focus on a goal.

For all this, the frontal lobe requires the integration of information from all the rest of the nervous system.

This process occurs at various levels that depend on the interaction with the environment. The characteristics of a task and its demands will determine the type of attention we employ.


Memory is the brain’s ability to retain and recall events from the past, be they specific sensations, impressions, feelings or ideas. Etymologically, it comes from the Latin word memorĭa.

It is in memory where we store our learning throughout life, as well as the knowledge that we consider most important and useful. When we are able to store memories for long periods of time, be it days, months or years, we use our long-term memory.

On the other hand, when we refer to that type of memory that is more effective in retaining memories of recent events and immediately, we are talking about short-term memory.


Self-awareness is the ability to look inside ourselves wisely, a complicit reading of our wills, our feelings, our emotions, our thoughts and our concerns.

Self-awareness as a pillar of emotional intelligence allows us to sweeten the perception of our individuality in the present moment, taking into account the past that we were and the future that accompanies us in the form of personal expectations.


Reasoning is the set of mental activities that consists of the connection of ideas according to certain rules and that will support or justify an idea. In simpler words, reasoning is the human faculty that allows solving problems after having reached conclusions that allow doing so.

There are two types of reasoning, logical reasoning, which makes use of the understanding to move from one proposition to another, based on what is already known or what is believed to be known to the unknown or less known.

In this, the reasoning that is made through this form can be valid or invalid. It will be considered as valid when its premises offer sufficient support for the conclusion and the exact opposite happens in the invalid one.

And then there is non-logical reasoning, also known as informal, which will not only be based on premises like the previous one but also uses experience and context.

Motivation and goal setting

Motivation can be defined as the determination or will that drives the person to do certain actions or behaviors to achieve a certain goal. That is, it has a decisive influence on the implementation of behaviors towards a certain end.

Depending on the importance for the person of the objective they want to achieve or the positive consequences of it, the motivation will be higher or lower.

Association capacity

The ability to associate is a fundamental ability. It is vital because it participates in practically every aspect of our existence. In the field of consciousness: creativity, memory, learning, intelligence. In the field of the unconscious: instincts, sensations, emotions.

It is the set of associations that determines the cohesion of our intellect.

Like almost any natural ability, the ability to consciously associate can be trained and thus greatly improve the performance of our mental abilities and abilities.

Cognitive flexibility

With cognitive flexibility we refer to the ability of the brain to adapt our behavior and thinking with ease to changing, novel and unexpected concepts and situations, or to the mental capacity to think about several concepts at the same time.

Cognitive flexibility indicates the capacity for cognitive fluency, as opposed to rigidity. It has been more widely described as the ability to adjust thinking gained in old situations to new situations. If one is able to overcome previously accepted beliefs or habits, they would be considered cognitively flexible.

Problem solving

It is called “rational problem solving” to the set of principles, techniques and skills, applied in a decided and conscious way, with an action plan or strategy, aimed at solving difficulties and achieving objectives or goals.

Creativity and lateral thinking

Creativity, also called original thinking, creative thinking, inventiveness, constructive imagination or divergent thinking, is the ability to create, innovate, generate new ideas or concepts, or new associations between known ideas and concepts, which usually lead to new conclusions, solve problems and produce original and valuable solutions.

Creativity is the production of an idea or a concept, a creation or a discovery that is new, original, useful, and satisfies both its creator and others for some period of time.


Perception is the human capacity to receive stimuli from the outside. Through perception we make judgments about the environment around us: we can discover shapes and colors (through vision), noises and sounds (through hearing), among others.

According to psychology, perception consists of organizing and interpreting the stimuli that were received by the senses that help to identify objects and events. In this sense, perception has two stages: the sensorial and the intellectual, since the sensations do not provide the real and complete vision and must be completed by the intellect.

Behavior inhibition and management

Inhibitory control is the ability of an individual to control impulsive reactions at both attentional and behavioral levels, this function depends mainly on the prefrontal cortex.

In other words, inhibitory control is defined as the ability to abstain or interrupt an automatic action that would not contribute to the intentions or goals set by the person.

This implies not only inhibiting actions, but the ability to inhibit thoughts and emotions that are not appropriate or do not contribute to the tasks that we will perform. It is also related to postponing immediate rewards in pursuit of a longer-term goal.


Anticipation and planning

The ability to foresee a series of consequences in the future from the actions undertaken and therefore set goals and objectives that derive from said actions. It is the ability to choose consequences and achieve future purposes.

Planning is a conscious and responsible elaboration of any type of project. In the field of research, construction, administration and management, planning a project is a fundamental requirement to complete said project successfully.

Symbolization and interpretation

Something fundamental for the human being is the ability to generate elements that allow representing an idea, as well as the ability to assess what specific action or symbol implies. This allows us, for example, to communicate with our peers and socialize, something imperative for a gregarious species like ours.


Language is a communication system, formed by oral and written signs, which serve so that human beings can express our ideas, thoughts, emotions and feelings to other human beings, either to two or more people.

Language becomes indispensable in our life in society and is key in our interpersonal relationships.


The definition of metacognition, also known as theory of mind, is the innate ability of people to understand and predict our own behavior and that of the people around us. It refers to all cognitive processes, such as thinking about one’s own thinking and learning to regulate it. 

We develop it around 4 years of age and human beings are the only ones who have this ability.

FAQS: Cognitive skills list

What are the 8 cognitive skills?

  1. Attention. …
  2. Memory. …
  3. Self-awareness. …
  4. Reasoning. …
  5. Motivation and goal setting. …
  6. Association capacity. …
  7. Cognitive flexibility. …
  8. Problem-solving.

What are some examples of cognitive skills?

Attention: for example, when we maintain attention in class or in a work meeting.

What is your cognitive ability?

Cognitive abilities are those that refer to what is related to information processing, that is, attention, perception, memory, problem solving, understanding, establishing analogies, among others.

What are the nine cognitive skills?




Problem resolution


Establishments of analogies




What is the 30 question cognitive test?

The mini-mental test is a simple test that allows detecting the presence of cognitive impairment, that is, dementia. It can be normal in people with mild cognitive impairment or incipient forms of Alzheimer’s, requiring, in these cases, studies with more sophisticated tests.

Throughout this article we refered to some of the most important cognitive skills. Which are fundamental in our day-day.

If you have any questions or comments please let us know!


Lycan, W.G., (ed.). (1999). Mind and Cognition: An Anthology, 2nd Edition. Malden, Mass: Blackwell Publishers.

Stanovich, Keith (2009). What Intelligence Tests Miss: The Psychology of Rational Thought. New Haven (CT): Yale University Press.

Von Eckardt, Barbara (1996). What is cognitive science?. Massachusetts: MIT Press.

Anderson, J. R. (1982). Acquisition of cognitive skill. Psychological review, 89(4), 369.