Executive Functions

Executive Functions enable us to mentally play with ideas.  They allow us to take time to think before acting when we encounter new and unexpected challenges. 

There is general agreement that the main executive functions can be classified into three categories: inhibition, working memory and cognitive flexibility.

Inhibition can be divided into three types; cognitive inhibition, behavioral inhibition and inhibition primary responses. These functions relate to our ability to control our attention, behaviour, thoughts and emotions.   Together these allow us to override internal predispositions or unwanted reactions to external stimuli.

There are two types of working memory; verbal and nonverbal (spatial – visual) . Working memory refers to keeping information in mind and actively work with it, for example, making links between bits of information in order to solve problems.  Retaining information is not sufficient, it is important to manipulate it to create new results.   It requires attention, creativity and flexibility and is closely associated to inhibition.

Finally, cognitive flexibility is built from the two executive functions outlined above and is thought to have occurred later in evolutionary development.   It refers to our ability to change our perspective or approach to a problem.  It allows us to flexibly adjusting to new demands, rules or priorities.  It requires both inhibition and working memory in order to function properly.