Executive Function: an Overview
We use a set of mental skills to deal with daily tasks. They make it possible for us to plan, make decisions, focus, complete tasks and resolve issues, to name but a few. These cognitive control skills are called executive functions. Continue reading the article to find out why they are crucial for human well-being.
Definition of Executive Functions
Executive functions (also called cognitive control and executive functions) is a multifaceted term that represents a set of cognitive processes. To understand what it means, let us start with the definition. APA Dictionary of Psychology provides the following explanation of executive functions:
Executive functions are higher-level cognitive processes of planning, decision making, problem-solving, action sequencing, task assignment and organization, effortful and persistent goal pursuit, inhibition of competing impulses, flexibility in goal selection, and goal-conflict resolution.
As you can see, executive functions cover a wide range of situations that require a complex response from an individual. It involves the use of logic, reasoning, judgment, abstract thinking, and concept formation. Executive functions are mainly regulated in the frontal lobe, particularly the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate cortex, and orbitofrontal cortex.
A person starts to develop executive functions in early childhood and continues this process up until their mid-20s. Different functions do not advance simultaneously. For example, attention and inhibitory control appear in infancy. Between the ages of 7 to 9, people learn to be flexible and become better at self-organization. At the age of 12, they start to focus on setting goals. With such gradual development of different cognitive processes, people reach the peak of their mental functions when they are in their 20s. It makes them ready for challenging tasks. With age, however, executive functions decline.
Performing goal-directed actions is impossible without having mature executive functions. In simple words, they help us to get things done. Executive functions allow people to progress towards a certain aim, control their behavior, motivate their actions, and make projections for the future. Therefore, they become the core of people’s well-being because of the self-control and behavior management that they provide.
Executive functions also affect people’s social relationships with the ability to monitor and regulate behavior. It prevents impulsive behavior and allows a person to consider and analyze the circumstances in social interactions. With its help, people are able to deal with intense emotions and control unwanted desires or impulses.
Executive functions have been studied for years. Due to advancements in research and our understanding of human cognitive processes, the term has become widely used in schools today. It is often difficult to grasp at first glance. If you struggle with a paper on executive function or any other topic, you can have it done by professionals such as essay writers by DoMyEssay. The service has expert writers in different subject areas, including neuropsychology. Professional academic help will help you succeed in understanding challenging subjects.
Types of Executive Functions
Executive functions are diverse. They enable some vital processes and abilities for people’s well-being. Here is the list of the basic executive functions:
- Inhibition ensures one’s appropriate conduct by inhibiting sudden impulses and restraining an individual from harmful or undesired behavior.
- Mental flexibility is the ability to switch between different situations and tasks to provide an adequate response. It also involves keeping several things in mind at the same time.
- Self-regulation refers to the ability to monitor one’s behavior in order to adjust it to expectations or morals.
- Emotional control allows taking control over one’s emotions, their degree, and manifestations.
- Working memory provides the capacity to keep information in the brain when performing a certain task. It guides one’s behavior, helps to remember instructions, and retains internal speech.
- Planning enables goal-oriented actions and the ability to manage ongoing and future tasks. It is involved in developing strategies and generating ideas.
- Organization provides the ability to organize activities of any kind (learning, work, play, and so on). It serves as a foundation for effective time management and planning.
- Attention involves the capacity to focus on a certain task even in spite of possible distractions from one’s surroundings.
Deficits in Executive Functions
Executive function issues are cognitive, emotional, and/or behavioral issues that an individual might experience as a result of brain damage, heredity, or another disorder. Deficits in executive function manifest themselves as:
- poor problem solving
- trouble managing tasks
- behavior control problems
- poor time management
- lack of ability to switch between tasks
- trouble organizing one’s belongings
- inability to remember instructions
- emotional issues
It is crucial to note that we all have strong and weak points in executive functions. Some people are more attentive or have better working memory when others may find it challenging to focus or memorize new information. The good news is that people can work on their cognitive skills and improve them. Yet, when they have severe executive dysfunction, they may need to consult a professional.
If a person experiences some kind of executive dysfunction, they will benefit from cognitive-behavioral therapy, medication, coaching, and the use of external reinforcement. It helps to strengthen weak points and compensate for deficits, which an individual may experience.