36 Examples of Cognitive Abilities
John Spacey, October 19, 2020
Cognitive abilities are foundational types of thinking. These can be cultivated and improved with practice. The following are common cognitive abilities.
ReasonThinking that is logical such as inference, deduction and abduction.
Rational ThoughtThinking that is reasonable but not necessarily fully logical. This can include consideration of human factors such as emotion, culture, social intelligence and morals. For example, a decision to forgive someone based on a moral principle.
MemoryWorking memory and long term memory. For example, a stock trader who is able to accurately hold dozens of numbers in their head as they execute a few trades.
Learning & DevelopmentThe ability to develop usable memories and cognitive talents. For example, a young child who learns to read in multiple languages.
Inhibitory ControlThe ability to suppress impulsive responses based on instinct, emotion, motivation and habit. Humans have significant capacity to do this to arrive at rational alternatives to impulsive behavior that may be suboptimal or socially unacceptable.
Attentional ControlFocusing on something and ignoring distractions. For example, an accountant who can accurately perform a reconciliation of accounts in a crowded night club.
Cognitive FlexibilityCognitive flexibility is the ability to think about different things at the same time without losing track. For example, a young video gamer who can track the movements of dozens of foes who have surrounded them to develop tactics that may change several times a second. This might be performed while negotiating with a parent who is insisting it is dinner time.
PlanningIdentifying a series of steps that can be taken to reach an objective. For example, a university student who plans how to convince a professor to extend a deadline.
Problem SolvingA type of planning that solves a problem. For example, a student who comes up with a study plan to improve their results in a subject they are failing.
Design ThinkingSolving problems with a process of synthesis whereby you design and create things. For example, a manager who corrects the poor performance of an employee by carefully crafting new objectives for them and continually evaluating them against these targets.
Decision MakingAn element of planning that identifies and evaluates options to choose one such as a flight director at a space agency who decides to abort a launch due to weather.
Systems ThinkingSystems thinking is the ability to identify the end-to-end impact of change to systems. Anything that is extremely complex can be considered a system. For example, a mayor who considers the possible unintended consequences of a new bylaw.
Critical ThinkingA vague and overused term that implies that thinking is systematic. For example, a student who is able to read a book and identify its main arguments in order to evaluate those arguments in an essay.
Analytical ThinkingThe process of breaking a problem down to understand its parts. For example, mapping out a business process to identify the concrete and measurable reasons that employees feel it is inefficient.
Dealing With AmbiguityApplying rational thought to situations where much isn't known such as a camper who is able to ascertain that sounds in the forest are from a single animal no larger than a badger.
ConjectureThe process of developing reasonable predictions about unknowns or the future.
Verbal ReasoningThinking in words including the internal dialogue that may people describe as their primary thinking process.
Visual ThinkingThe process of thinking with pictures such as a diagram. This includes the ability to visualize things with the mind.
Challenging AssumptionsIntellectual bravery whereby you are willing to challenge the things that people hold to be true. This can include the ability to challenge your own assumptions.
Convergent ThinkingThe ability to solve a problem with a known correct answer such as a math problem.
Divergent ThinkingDivergent thinking is the ability to solve a problem with an open-ended answer such as a design for a new product. Convergent and divergent thinking are complimentary and are both important to rational thought.
Spatial ReasoningThe ability to think about 3d space. This can include both convergent and divergent thinking. For example, a mover who can tell you exactly how large a truck you will need to move a particular house full of furniture or an architect who can design attractive interior and exterior spaces.
Social CognitionThe human mind appears to be highly adapted to understanding other human beings. For example, the ability to predict what others will do or see how they feel.
Emotional IntelligenceRecognizing and using emotion such as a customer service representative who is able to solve a customer's problem at the emotional level in addition to the technical level. For example, being able to win back a customer who feels they have been disrespected by your firm.
Fluid IntelligenceFluid intelligence is the ability to respond intelligently to novel situations. For example, a gamer who is able to fight with an alien they've never encountered before that has strange powers.
Crystallized IntelligenceCognitive abilities that rely on knowledge and experience. Most human talents fall into this category. For example, an artist who has become great at what they do after years of experimenting and perfecting their work.
Abstract ThinkingAbstract thinking is the ability to use concepts that differ from concrete reality. Language is mostly abstract concepts with familiar words such as education, freedom or cause all being completely abstract.
IntuitionIntuition is knowledge that originates outside of conscious thought. For example, a fashion designer with a strong sense of what will sell who appears to make instantaneous decisions that are remarkably accurate.
WitWit is the ability to respond to social situations in some intelligent way at high speed.
Situational AwarenessThe process of understanding fast moving situations. Relies on high speed unconscious processes such as salience and intuition.
Kinesthetic IntelligenceCognitive abilities related to the body such as balance, coordination and physical accuracy.
ImaginationImagination is the ability to think of things beyond direct reality. Essential to strategy, creativity, decision making and problem solving.
IntentionalityThe ability to shape motivation and purpose in some reasonable way. For example, an student who is able to build up motivation to become a chef based on a desire for creative expression.
Self-AwarenessAwareness of the self including physical, emotional, motivational and cognitive characteristics. For example, an individual who knows how they would be likely to act in a fictional situation.
IntrospectionIntrospection is the ability to examine your own thinking, emotions, habits, motivations and character to improve.
AdaptabilityThe ability to deploy different modes of thinking and thinking strategies to handle different situations. For example, a senior manager with high amounts of crystallized intelligence who knows when to stay open minded and how to continue to learn.
ThinkingThis is the complete list of articles we have written about thinking.
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