neuroplasticity brain training

Why The 8 Core Cognitive Capacities

ACTIVATE™ is based on the latest cognitive capacity research of the scientific community into the basic cognitive functions that form the groundwork for all learning. Educators that are familiar with Bloom’s Taxonomy will recognize the importance of foundational skills such as remembering and understanding for the ability of students to engage in higher-level skills such as analyzing and synthesizing. The scientific community is beginning to both understand the neurological basis for learning skills, and to develop new ways in which these skills can be strengthened through specially designed exercises. ACTIVATE™ is a product of this research, and designed to strengthen the following Core Cognitive Capacities.


Sustained Attention

Sustained Attention is the basic ability to look at, listen to and think about classroom tasks over a period of time. All teaching and learning depends on it. Without attention, new learning simply does not happen, and issues of understanding and memory are of no relevance.

Attention in the classroom results from a combination of the child’s internal ability to sustain attention and the “attention getting” power of the lesson material. Teaching cannot be successful without both; a teacher can not be so interesting all the time to make up for a child’s lack of internal ability to sustain attention. In children with attention problems, the brain systems that sustain attention seem to be slow and incomplete in their development. Popular over-stimulating attention-getting devices like video games or television may exacerbate the situation by weakening the child’s own internal ability to sustain attention. ACTIVATE™ exercises are designed to be fun and interesting enough to meet the child half-way, but they require the child to use and develop his or her own internal abilities to sustain attention on tasks that grow increasingly lengthy and complex.

Response Inhibition

Response Inhibition is the ability to inhibit one’s own response to distractions. Imagine two children paying close attention to a lesson, when there is a sudden noise in the hall way. One loses her attention while the other does not.

The child who maintains attention has better response inhibition, or the ability to stop or inhibit the inclination to direct attention toward the distracting stimulation. Some distracting stimuli are particularly powerful, like the yelling of other children in the playground, the bell of an ice cream truck, or the sight of their best friend walking by on the way to the bathroom. Children need the ability to inhibit their response to these distractors. ACTIVATE™ promotes response inhibition during sustained attention by requiring children to not respond to stimuli to which they had previously been required to respond.

Speed of Information Processing

Speed of Information Processing refers to how quickly a learner can process incoming information. Some scientists consider speed of information processing a central aspect of IQ. Many children with attention problems often are unable to keep up with the lesson plan presented by the teacher.

If they fail to process initial information quickly enough, they may not understand the next things that follow and may quickly give up trying. Scientists are still working to discover the neural basis of speed and efficiency of information processing, but studies indicate that it can be increased with properly designed training programs, just as a runner trains her leg muscles or a baseball player his bat speed. Sustained attention and response inhibition contribute to speed of information processing by increasing activation of the brain processing systems appropriate for the task to which the person is attending. Increased speed of information processing in turn increases attention, since attention wanders when the child falls behind and cannot understand the material being presented.

Cognitive Flexibility and Control

Cognitive Flexibility and Control is the ability to change what you are thinking about, how you are thinking about it and even what you think about it – in other words, the ability to change your mind. Cognitive flexibility is required in multiple ways throughout the school day.

Children have to switch mental gears when moving from one subject to another, abandon one way of thinking about a problem when it does not lead to a solution and adopt another way of thinking, and even give up erroneous information to accept new and correct information. Cognitive control is the ability to switch ways of thinking, either automatically or deliberately, in situations requiring flexibility. Cognitive control requires the ability to resist the impulse to perseverate and keep thinking in a previously active but no longer appropriate manner.

Multiple Simultaneous Attention

Multiple Simultaneous Attention is the ability to multitask with success. It is the ability to move attention and effort back and forth between two or more activities when engaged in them at the same time. It makes demands on sustained attention, response inhibition and speed of information processing, and also requires planning and strategy.

ACTIVATE™ exercises multiple simultaneous attention as the tasks presented for students grow more complex. For example, multiple tasks must be performed simultaneously through levels of a computer exercise, and through simultaneous searching for two categories of objects at once in another computer exercise.

Working Memory

Working Memory refers to the ability to remember instructions or keep information in the mind long enough to perform tasks. We use simple working memory when we look at a phone number and keep it in mind while we dial it. Working memory is the sketch pad of the mind where we put things to think about and manipulate.

Children have to use their working memory throughout the school day, whether it is keeping in mind instructions, doing arithmetic, working in groups, or even crossing the room to sharpen a pencil. Simple working memory tests are highly correlated with IQ scores. There is evidence that working memory exercises can by themselves produce improvement in the symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, probably because the same areas of the brain are associated with sustained attention, response inhibition and working memory.

Category Formation

Category Formation is the ability to organize information, concepts and skills into categories, and forms the cognitive basis for higher-level abilities like applying, analyzing, and evaluating those concepts and skills. Categories are the basis of language and organization of the world.

Names of things, nouns, represent categories of things. Using categories in organizing incoming information improves processing and memory of information; it facilitates abstract thought. There is a clear association in many scientific studies between use of categories to organize material and the facilitation of thinking about the material. Some children spontaneously use categories much less than others. ACTIVATE™ has games specifically designed to enhance a child’s category formation and flexibility.

Pattern Recognition & Inductive Thinking

Pattern Recognition and Inductive Thinking is a special ability of the human brain to not only find patterns, but figure out in a logical way what those patterns suggest about what will happen next. In a broad sense, pattern recognition and inductive thinking form the basis for all scientific inquiry.

These two complex cognitive processes draw on six of the other core cognitive processes. Here we see in action sustained attention, response inhibition, speed of information processing, cognitive flexibility, working memory and category formation in the service of creative problem solving. ACTIVATE™ creates the opportunity for children to exercise the brain systems that both perform and integrate these core cognitive capacities.