Monday, April 25th, 2016
Cognitive flexibility refers to the brain’s ability to transition from thinking about one concept to another. It is the ability to efficiently switch between tasks — it’s a function our brains practice all day long. The quicker you are able to switch or “shift” your thinking from one dimension (e.g. color of an object) to another (e.g. shape of an object), the greater your level of cognitive flexibility.
We can think of cognitive flexibility as being analogous to changing channels on a TV, but think of the channels as “streams-of-thought” (concepts) and the TV as your “brain.” If you are stuck on one channel and can’t change it – your cognition is inflexible; your stream-of-thought and/or beliefs cannot be updated or altered. However, if you possess a remote and can rapidly change the channel rapidly at whim, you are considered to have cognitive flexibility.
Cognitive flexibility is useful in that it helps people adapt to novel scenarios and information such as unexpected demands in the workplace, and/or a last-minute change of plans. What is helpful, is to be able to rapidly shift your thinking between concepts and alter your perspective to accommodate new information.
With cultural evolution continuing to outpace biological evolution, cognitive flexibility helps you update your old belief system as an adaptation to novel stimuli. Just think of all the people that weren’t able to learn how to use a computer or cell phone; these individuals may be stuck in their ways and still fail to understand the perspectives of a newer generation.
In addition to improving a person’s ability to adapt when faced with novel stimuli, cognitive flexibility is associated with improved brain functioning. It allows your brain to function more efficiently, with various regions operating in orchestra. Those with high levels of cognitive flexibility tend to have superior comprehension and fluency associated with reading, higher levels of fluid intelligence, and an expanded sense of awareness.
Summing-up: Cognitive flexibility is the ability to shift your thinking as an adaptation to new stimuli. If your goal is to maintain peak mental performance, engaging in activities that increase cognitive flexibility may provide substantial benefit.