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Executive functions: Can they be improved?

executive functions

Most recent studies in the field of neuropsychology and functional neuroimaging have highlighted the importance of executive functions (EF).

Thanks to this post, you will learn more about the significance of executive functions in your daily life, and how to make the most of them.

Exploit your brain!

What are executive functions?

Executive functions were first described and systematizedby neuropsychologist Muriel Lezak in 1983. As a result, research in the field of neuropsychology and functional neuroimaging has made a qualitative and quantitative leap, deepening knowledge of these functions, which are essential for everyday livingand ensure our survival and adaptation to the environment.

Executive functions are complex cognitive processes necessary for planning, organizing, guiding, revising, regulating, and evaluating behavior necessary to adapt effectively to the environment and to achieve goals (Bauermeister, 2008).

Executive functions are responsible for managing and planning our behavior.

It is important to explain that these cognitive functions are not 100% innate but develop throughout the lifes pan by means of maturation. In fact, some of them are not fully developed until the age of 25 due to neuronal immaturity.

We can understand executive functions as a constellation of abilities that help us achieve our goals and objectives.

Which processes comprise executive functions?

Although there is still debate as to what executive functions are due to the complexity of the construct and definition, there is consensus regarding the cognitive abilities involved in executive function:

Planning: the ability that allows us to sequence the steps toward a goal. For example, if I need to be ready by 8 pm to attend a dinner, I must organize thesteps to achieve this goal: I must shower and get ready, determine how much time I need to get there and to find a parking spot, etc.

Reasoning: this ability is unique and exclusive to human beings, it distinguishes us from all other species,and is the higher-order cognitive process par excellence. Reasoning enables us to evaluate and choose a specific behaviorto accomplish our goal in an effective manner.

Working Memory:allows us to store and manipulate information purposefully. Working memory is a critical cognitive ability for everyday life.

Cognitive Flexibility: the ability to switch the focus of attentionin response to different stimuli. It is the ability to change our way of thinking and act according to the demands of the environment.

Inhibition: the ability to stop one’s own behavior and thoughts. Thanks to this ability, we can avoid being distracted by irrelevant stimuli and focus on our goal. In addition, inhibition keeps us from acting impulsively.

Decision Making: the ability to generate, evaluate, andselect the best option to achieve our goals and objectives.

If you would like to learn more about the decision-making process, click here.

Where is executive function located in the brain?

The frontal lobe is the region most typically associated with the location of executive functions.

More specifically, the most advanced and complex executive functions of the human being are located in the prefrontal cortex.

Alterations in the executive functions are considered a hallmark of frontal lobe pathology, especially oflesions or dysfunction of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.

Other brain areas such as the hippocampus, basal ganglia, cerebellum, and amygdala are also involved in these processes.

Executive functioning issues

In general, when executive functions do not function adequately, we may have difficulty in acquiring new behaviors, difficulty in anticipating the consequences of our actions, greater impulsivity, and a significant loss of creativity when faced withnew challenges.

On the other hand, there is a relationship between diseases such as schizophrenia, OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), autism, and ADHD.

Can executive functions be improved?

Yes. Thanks to brain plasticity, anyone who wants can train and improve his/her executive function skills.

Continued and repeated practice of exercises will affect your brain structure, specifically,the neural networks that you train to restore

Moreover, thanks to NeuronUP, training executive functions is easier than ever. Neurorehabilitation professionals will be able to choose which function to train according to the needs of each client or patient.

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