Cognitive thinking definition and how to test for cognitive ability

Cognitive thinking definition and how to test for cognitive ability

Cognitive thinking definition and how to test for cognitive ability

You probably see the word “cognitive” a lot on the internet, but what does it actually mean?

We’re going to provide you with a cognitive thinking definition that is easy to understandand also look at how you can test candidates or current employees for different types of cognitive ability with our wide range of cognitive tests.

Let’s start off with a short  explanation of what cognitive skills are, and then look at the different definitions of cognitive thinking.

Table of contents

What are cognitive skills?

What are cognitive skills

Put simply, they are the skills your brain uses all the time to think, learn, read, remember, reason, and pay attention. These cognitive abilities work together to help you process information and navigate everyday life.

Every one of your cognitive skills has an important role to play in how your brain deals with different scenarios. That means that if just one of your cognitive abilities is weak, it affects how well you pick up new information, remember it, or use it. 

What are some examples of cognitive skills in the workplace? Well, they help you interpret data, remember goals, pay attention during meetings, and much more. These skills help you to make important connections between information stored in your brain and new data so you can do your job effectively.

Hopefully, this has given you a better understanding of how these skills affect our day-to-day lives. Next, we’ll explore the processes that form part of cognitive thinking definitions.

Cognitive thinking definitions: What are the cognitive processes?

nine types of cognitive thinking

There are various cognitive thinking definitions, and they are often grouped into nine different categories:

1. Sustained attention

This cognitive process is the one that enables you to focus on one task for a long period of time. Although this skill helps you to keep motivated and focused on a single project until it’s done, doing it too often and for too long can lead to cognitive exhaustion

The signs of mental fatigue, such as making simple errors, growing lack of attention and irritability signify that the mental effort needed to continue focusing on one thing is becoming too difficult for your brain to sustain.

2. Selective attention

The cognitive thinking definition of selective attention is choosing to focus on a single task even when there are other tasks that need doing, or choosing to focus on the many auditory or visual distractions around you rather than the task at hand. 

This cognitive process is also known as “the cocktail party effect.” This refers to your ability to listen to only one conversation in a busy restaurant or bar that is filled with many other people talking and moving about. 

We are constantly being flooded with information from multiple channels. Those who can filter it and selectively prioritize the most important tasks will likely be more productive and successful at work than those who struggle with distractions.

3. Divided attention

This cognitive thinking definition is perhaps better known as multitasking. This cognitive skill helps you retain information while successfully completing more than one task at the same time. 

Although divided attention can help you do today’s tasks while planning the next ones, there is evidence that chronic multitasking reduces productivity by as much as 40 percent. This study from Stanford University also showed that heavy multitaskers didn’t perform well at filtering relevant information.

Sometimes multitasking is unavoidable (especially at work), but it can be made easier by pairing certain tasks or multitasking to get things done, not to learn something new.

4. Long-term memory

This particular cognitive thinking definition refers to recalling information from the past, whether that was fifty minutes or fifty years ago. This type of memory is also called “reference memory”, and is thought to have an unlimited capacity, meaning information can stay there indefinitely.

This skill is useful at work as it can help you remember the main points of past meetings without having to look them up, or with using advanced functions on software you haven’t used in a long time. It also helps you to remember your workplace or educational training and apply it to current tasks.

5. Working memory

The cognitive thinking definition that is known as short-term memory helps you retain information while you are using it. For example, you may quickly memorize a new PIN number and then involuntarily forget it shortly after you’ve been to the ATM because you no longer need it at that moment. Short-term memory skills can also help you remember the things you discussed in a recent conversation.

Unlike long-term memory, working memory is very limited and, for most people, it stops being effective after it has taken in between five and nine pieces of information. The limits of working memory are often identified as “seven, plus or minus two,” which is a reference to the discoveries of Princeton researcher George Miller.

6. Logic and reasoning

Logic and reasoning skills help you solve problems and generate ideas. You use logic and reasoning skills when analyzing a situation or problem to come up with potential solutions. 

Logical thinkers gather all the information they can, look carefully at the facts, and then decide the best way to move forward based on their findings. Employees with these skills are sought-after by employers, and our Problem Solving test is a great way to find candidates who use analytical skills to evaluate and respond to complex situations.

7. Auditory processing

This cognitive thinking definition refers to how your brain makes sense of information that you hear. It works by blending, analyzing, and segmenting sounds. This can help with skills such as active listening and communication. 

auditory processing disorder (APD) is a hearing disorder that affects ones ability to analyze or make sense of information heard through the ears, and it can cause issues in the workplace. 

When interactions at work rely mainly on the spoken word, someone with APD may have difficulty understanding the conversation, and they may struggle to answer questions on the spot.

However, they often do very well with the written word and may prefer communicating through email or with apps such as Slack. 

Our Communication test evaluates candidates’ skills in communicating clearly and effectively in a professional setting. The test assesses candidates in both written and verbal communication, as well as non-verbal cues and active listening, so you can immediately see where a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses lie when it comes to communication.

8. Visual processing

This specific cognitive thinking definition refers to how well you interpret images and text. Strong visual processing skills allow you to analyze designs, spot errors in images or text, read documents, and make sense of visual representations of data, such as graphs and tables. 

Our Attention to Detail (Visual) or Attention to Detail (Textual) tests can help you find candidates who perform well at processing different types of information. They can catch minor errors and perceive small details as they carefully study and consider all visual or textual information presented to them.

9. Mental processing speed

This final cognitive thinking definition refers to how quickly and accurately you can perform tasks. It’s something of a gray area though, as a person might be able to handle very complex cognitive tasks, but take a very long time to do them.

Those who have a high processing speed can interpret data quickly and accurately, but that isn’t all there is to it, and a slower processing speed has nothing to do with intelligence. Our brains are wired in different ways, and a person may be able to excel at complex cognitive tasks, yet take a very long time to do them.

Those with slower processing speeds can suffer in the workplace if they are given time-limited tasks, but having a supportive supervisor or manager can make a lot of difference in how much anxiety they feel by giving them tasks that aren’t limited by time, or by giving them extra time to do the job well.

Testing candidates for cognitive abilities

Testing candidates for cognitive abilities

Now that we’ve looked at the various cognitive thinking definitions, let’s move on to how we can accurately test for them. 

Cognitive ability tests for hiring provide a number of benefits for organizations, including higher employee performance and productivity, decreased turnover, and significant cost savings.

One of the most compelling reasons to use cognitive ability tests is that they are a strong predictor of job performance, as discovered by Frank L. Schmidt. In his research, he measured 19 different employee selection techniques on their ability to predict job performance

He assessed the most common methods used to select candidates, including cognitive ability tests. Schmidt discovered that cognitive ability was the strongest predictor of job performance.

At TestGorilla, we have a wide range of cognitive ability tests. You can choose to use one specific test, or combine up to five different ones in an assessment.

Quick guide to cognitive ability testing

If you’re not sure how to use cognitive ability tests in your hiring process, then we have a quick guide for you here:

1. Choose the right tests 

Find the most relevant cognitive ability tests in our test library based on the needs of the specific role you’re recruiting for.

2. Create a baseline 

You can’t evaluate your candidates’ cognitive ability scores accurately without a benchmark to compare them to. Ask your current high-performing employees if they will take the tests, and use their scores to create a baseline for comparison.

3. Test your candidates 

One of the major benefits of using tests for hiring is that they speed up the screening process, and are more accurate compared to traditional methods like the CV. Pair cognitive ability tests with a role-specific test to find the candidates most suited for the role.

4. Evaluate the results 

Now it’s time to assess how each candidate scored against the baseline you created. If a candidate is too far below the benchmark, you can consider eliminating them. If they meet the benchmark or score even higher, put them on your list for an interview.

5. Interview the top-scoring candidates

Interview each candidate that passed your initial benchmark. If there were any specific weak or strong points in the candidate’s test, consider asking questions that dig deeper into those areas during the interview. 

6. Make a decision  

Use the results of the cognitive ability test in combination with your other methods of candidate evaluation, including interviews and reference checks. The cognitive ability tests should never be used on their own to make a final decision

That’s it – six simple steps to find candidates with top cognitive thinking skills. We hope you found our guide to cognitive thinking definitions and cognitive ability testing useful.

Don’t forget to check out our range of cognitive tests in our test library and sign up for our free plan to try some out.

If you have any questions or want to see how our tests work first-hand, book a free 30-minute live demo with a member of our sales team. 

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