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6 activities to enhance executive functions

6 activities to enhance executive functions

January 22, 2021

After the boom in recent decades of scientific research based on neuroimaging techniques and computational methodologies, it has been possible to establish the mechanisms on how the human mind operates when activating cognitive reasoning procedures.

In this way, today there is a great consensus in define executive functions (FFEE) as a set of processes whose ultimate purpose is to monitor the execution and determine the control of said cognitive activity and, therefore, behavioral, in the individual.

  • Related article: "The 11 executive functions of the human brain"

Executive functions and their importance in mental processes

The so-called executive functions are located in the frontal lobes and intervene fundamentally in specific cognitive operations such as memorization, metacognition, learning and reasoning.


On a practical level, therefore, executive functions allow actions such as planning events or situations, choosing and deciding between different options, discriminating between relevant stimuli and discarding irrelevant ones, keep the attention on a task in a sustained manner , decide what type of motor movement is appropriate at each moment, etc. All of them are included in three classes of more general functions (Tirapu-Ustárroz et al, 2008):

  • Ability to formulate goals.
  • Power to plan processes and establish strategies to achieve these objectives.
  • Ability to carry out purposes and pose them effectively.

It seems, therefore, that Good performance of executive functions allow for greater competition for the individual when it comes to regulating their behavior and carrying it out efficiently.


  • Maybe you're interested: "The 8 superior psychological processes"

Activities to train and enhance executive functions

Let's see how this type of faculty can be trained through the implementation of simple exercises and daily activities:

1. Description of the appearance of an object or a person

In this activity, numerous capacities are implicated the establishment of differential characteristics, elaboration of categories , structuring of the linguistic discourse, vocabulary, focus of attention on the relevant details. On the other hand, alternative thinking is encouraged, since this object is valued from an objective perspective (according to its origin, material, history, current and future use) eliminating prejudices or subjective evaluations.

2. Discovery of guidelines

The continuation of incomplete series, for example, implies processes of abstract deductive and inductive reasoning. Thus, our mind must analyze all the physical characteristics of the available elements to find common patterns and features in order to deduce what the next component will be. This process is fundamental for the human being since it becomes a great resource in the generation of expectations and in decision making , both essential capacities for our psyche and our survival.


3. Generation of alternative action plans

One of the basic procedures of executive functions is linked to mental flexibility when it comes to reflect about day-to-day situations or events. Therefore, a practice that greatly exercises this ability is to develop various alternative explanations about the causes of the experiences that are presented or to contemplate other options than an initial plan established.

When we generate several perspectives on an event, we are able to adopt a more objective stance, since we once again resort to an in-depth analysis of the pros and cons of each of the options and allow us to draw more rationally based conclusions. Thus, the fact of detailing all the steps to follow in each proposed plan also involves the implementation of processes such as abstract reasoning, the search for analogies, categorization or the creation of expectations.

4. Practice of creative ability

Research shows how creativity becomes a central component of human intelligence. This skill can be stimulated on a daily basis simply performing a normal task in a different way, altering the procedures that are automated in its execution.

An example of this would be to go to work using different paths, solve a problem in an innovative way or modify the route in the supermarket when making the purchase. It is said that the creative process consists of the phases of exploration and application. A) Yes, the fact of looking for alternative methodologies to solve situations It is essential for the implementation of the first of the phases indicated.

At the biological level, this facilitates the generation of new neuronal connections and, consequently, new learning. It should be noted that the automatisms and routines are forms of energy saving to which our brain resorts due to the large volume of mental activity that must constantly process. That is can be considered as adaptive mechanisms , At first. Even so, an excess in this style of operation based on inertia diminishes the competence in the optimal exercise of our intellectual capacity.

5. Use of metaphors

The use of this type of resource when we communicate our ideas implies a previous process where different complex skills are combined. On the one hand, the recovery procedures of the information stored in our memory relative to past experiences and referred to the elements used in the metaphor must be executed. On the other hand, the establishment of analogies is activated where the similarities between the information contained in the concrete message and the content of the metaphor are linked. For this, common aspects must be analyzed, categories established and attention capacity activated. to discriminate between the relevant irrelevant information.

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6. Exercise of selective and sustained attention capacity

All new activity requires, among other processes, the investment of a great intensity of the attention and concentration capacity. Activities such as finding differences between received stimuli, learning a new language or playing a musical instrument, for example, involve:

  • A great activation of the working memory, which is the one that operates with the information that is in front of it for a certain time and allows to generate a concrete result or response - memorize a phone number to mark it in a few seconds, for example.
  • The creation of new connections which favors an increase in cognitive flexibility and the volume of new and discrepant information to be stored.
  • The implementation of the so-called inhibitory control (ability to control impulsive or inappropriate responses to the situation in question) The inhibitory control is closely related to discriminatory attention ability, since when there is no relevant stimulation, the executive functions are those responsible for sending the order not to react to such information.

Bibliographic references:

  • Kolb, B. & Wishaw I. Q. (2006) Human Neuropsychology, 5th edition. Editorial Panamericana Medical: Madrid.
  • Tirapu-Ustarroz, J., & Luna-Lario, P. (2008). Neuropsychology of executive functions. Neuropsychology Manual, 219-249.
  • Wujec, T. (2006). Mental Gymnastics Planet Editions: Madrid.

InBrief: Executive Function: Skills for Life and Learning (January 2021).


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