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  • Tools for Cognition & Emotion

  • Cognition refers to a person’s thought process and how they think about their thoughts, also known as metacognition. Additionally, cognition can include memory and attention. Emotion describes feeling states. Emotional status is complicated by the fact that individuals don’t always know what they are feeling. Confusing the matter even further is the issue of how cognition and emotion intersect. When a person’s cognition becomes compromised, it can influence emotional modulation. Cognitive exercises are simple and easy ways to keep your mind sharp and focused.
    Cognitive Exercises: Attention
    The ability to pay attention to the world is an important aspect of cognition. Without selective attention it would be difficult to know what to pay attention to in any given moment. Dean Delis and Edith Kaplan created a popular series of neuropsychological tests called the Delis-Kaplan Executive Functioning System that contains measures of general attention. Using their system as a model, one way to practice visual attention, scanning and shifting is to use complex mazes and connect-the-dot games. Practice by used timed trials as a way to measure progress; as time decreases visual attention increases.
    Cognitive Exercises: Memory
    Working memory is another bedrock of cognition because it allows for the holding of information in the brain long enough to process it properly. By expanding working memory capacity, cognition as a whole is strengthened. Taking another cue from the tests included in the Delis-Kaplan Executive Functioning System, use playing cards to create a working memory exercise. Randomly arrange four cards in a row face up and look at them for 5 seconds. Turn the cards over and try to recall number and suit. Increase the number of cards each time. For an advanced exercise recall the cards in reverse order.

    Emotional Exercises: Feelings
    One of the most difficult issues in terms of emotion is the ability to have insight into feelings. Having a certain feeling and knowing where it came from are two different things. Journal writing can help an individual gain insight into their emotional state because it forces self-reflection about the events of a day. In 2006 researchers at Ball State University in Indiana conducted a meta-analysis, or review of a larger group of studies, looking at the benefits of journal writing. Their results, which were published in the “Journal of Athletic Training” suggest that writing in a journal increases expression of emotion, critical thinking and self-reflection.
    Emotional Exercises: Thoughts
    Another technique that can enhance emotion lies in using journal writing to connect thoughts and feelings. First described by psychologist Aaron Beck, thought journals allow for the understanding of automatic thoughts and underlying feelings that may otherwise stay in the subconscious. There is no standard format for keeping a journal, but the basic idea is that when an upsetting emotion or thought arises, jot it down and then walk through all of the facts and associations. Ask questions about the thought such, “How likely is this really?” “What other external factors influenced this thought?” “Is the feeling state influencing perception of thought?” Answering such question about thoughts helps with emotional modulation.

    References
    • “Examiner’s Manual: Delis-Kaplan Executive Functioning System”; Dean Delis, Edith Kaplan and Joel Kramer; 2001
    • “Journal of Athletic Training”; Journal Writing as a Teaching Technique to Promote Reflection; SE Walker; February 2006
    • “Handbook of Psychological Assessment, 4th Edition”; Gary Groth-Marnat; 2003