Executive Functions

At BrainsFirst, we clarify the fundamentals of human performance by measuring the prefrontal cortex using four different games. More specifically, our games measure the executive functions of the prefrontal cortex. Understanding these executive functions is essential because they are at the heart of our profiles.

Executive functions (EFs) allow us to mentally play with ideas, give us time to think before we act, allow us to deal with new and unexpected situations and challenges, help us resist temptations and enable us to stay focused.

If you’re interested, you can watch Ilja Sligte, co-founder of BrainsFirst, explain more about executive functions in this video.

The importance of executive functions

Executive functions provide important tools for understanding human behavior.
They are cognitive functions required for efficient, goal-directed behavior, such as being able to plan, being flexible, selecting actions in a focused manner, retaining information in working memory, processing feedback, detecting error, enabling inhibition and more.

Executive functions are crucial to the effective performance of any task. Want to make a cup of coffee? Then make sure your executive functions are ready. Whether a task takes a few minutes, hours, or weeks, you always rely on the executive functions of the brain. They are crucial for our human functioning.

Working memory is like the “conscious eye” or “conscious ear” of your mind, where you store all the information needed for thought processes and decision-making. Working memory allows you to control your inhibition and attention. Working memory is often compared to a computer’s random-access memory (RAM) because both play a crucial role in temporarily storing and processing information.

Attention functions as the conscious lens through which you can focus on what is important in that moment. The key here is to select the relevant input, focus your attention on the right thoughts and perform the right motor actions to get one step closer to your goal. Attention plays a crucial role here.

When you focus your attention on something, specific information is magnified in your brain and comes to the forefront of your consciousness. With inhibition, you can suppress the tendency to do something other than the task at hand. For example, inhibition helps you not react impulsively when someone gets angry with you.

Finally, there is mental or cognitive flexibility. If you always do something the same way and it suddenly stops working, you need to try it another way or ask for advice so that you can put new instructions in your working memory. Cognitive flexibility includes creative “out-of-the-box” thinking, the ability to see things from different perspectives and the ability to adapt quickly and flexibly to changing circumstances.

If you really want to dive into it we recommend reading the scientific article “Executive Functions”  by
Adele Diamond (2013).