What Are Basic and Higher Cognitive Functions

The brain is the main organ of our body as it is responsible for regulating most functions of the body and mind. Among these functions we would find the cognitive functions that are responsible for receiving, selecting, storing and processing information from the environment that surrounds us. Therefore, thanks to them we can relate to others and with the objects in our environment.

These functions are continuously activated and helping us to carry out any type of activity, such as reading, writing, talking to someone, listening to music... There are many types of these functions that, although they are different from each other, on many occasions they overlap and They depend a lot on each other, that is, if we have an altered function, it is possible that the others are affected as well.

Next in Psychology we will see what the basic and higher cognitive functions are and we will explain them so that we can understand more about our brain and cognitive abilities.

Basic cognitive functions

What are basic cognitive functions? In this group are those types of functions that help us capture and filter the information that will later be processed by the rest of the cognitive functions of the brain. Next we will see what the basic cognitive functions are:


Through this process we select the information and separate that which is useful to us from that which is not. With attention we can be alert to dangers, we can also be concentrated for long periods of time, listen to a conversation...

There are different types of care:

  • Focused attention : be alert.
  • Sustained attention : being focused on something.
  • Selective attention : choosing something to focus on, omitting the rest of the stimuli around us.
  • Alternating attention : moving from one focus of attention to another.

Visuoperceptive and visuospatial functions

With these cognitive abilities we can recognize and classify stimuli. Thanks to them we recognize faces or distinguish a dog from a cat. That is, it helps us interpret the information.


Memory is the cognitive process of storing information. In the future, we can also recover said information, thus facilitating our anticipation of certain attentions. For example, if you have had a car accident from looking at your mobile, in the future you will surely not look at it again since you remember what happened the last time you did it. There are many types of memory. Depending on the temporal space we would have:

  • Short-term memory. It can be of 2 types. On the one hand, immediate memory : remembering something at the moment it happens. On the other hand, working memory : the one more focused on the storage of information in the short term and its work. Example, memorizing a phone number until we find a piece of paper to write it down.
  • Long term memory. Store information for long periods of time. Depending on the type of memories, we find two types of long-term memory. On the one hand, the declarative memory, which is the most conscious memory that allows us to evoke memories the moment we decide to do so. For example, remembering our wedding day. On the other hand, non-declarative memory, that more unconscious memory such as remembering how to ride a bike every time we ride one.

Higher cognitive functions

Next we will see what are the higher cognitive functions and examples.

Executive functions

They are the most complex group of cognitive processes since they are responsible for the control of cognition and the regulation of thoughts and our behavior. Therefore, they cover all kinds of brain functions. such as choosing where we direct our attention, our planning capacity, motivation, verification and regulation of our actions, our awareness of ourselves, the ability to consider different points of view and consider alternative futures. Ultimately, in this group are all more conscious and more elaborate functions related to reasoning. Thus, we could divide them into the following subgroups:

  • Goal formulation : here we would find motivation, self-awareness and way of perceiving our relationship with the world.
  • Planning strategies and stages to achieve objectives: ability to abstract, develop alternative thoughts and evaluate different possibilities.
  • Execution of behavior : other higher cognitive functions are the ability to initiate, maintain and sequence behaviors in an orderly and integrated way.
  • Efficacy : among the higher cognitive functions there is the control of time, the use of feedback and the self-regulation of behavior.
  • Reasoning : within the higher cognitive functions we would find, therefore, with reasoning, which in turn, can be divided into several types. On the one hand, argumentative reasoning, which is related to the linguistic ability to give arguments. And on the other hand, logical reasoning, which is the ability, upon receiving an argument, to be able to question the validity and the possibility or not that there is a different hypothesis. There are several types, deductive reasoning would be completely logical and inductive, which would include conjecture.


This cognitive function is the ability to communicate and relate to other people. In addition, thanks to it our thoughts are structured. Logically it has two phases, the language interpretation phase, that is, what others tell us, and the language production phase, in which we are the ones who transmit information to others.

What do we use executive functions for?

As you may have deduced, we are constantly making use of several of the brain's cognitive functions, both basic and higher cognitive functions. Behind the most everyday acts there are infinite types of processes that allow us to carry out the action. For example, when cooking, we are using alternating attention between different food preparations. In addition, we are using various types of memory and executive functions on many occasions in order to be able to decide if, for example, more salt is needed.