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Tara Thiagarajan Ph.D.
Tara Thiagarajan Ph.D.

Core Cognition: An Important Pillar of Your Mental Health

Take the MHQ assessment to evaluate your core cognition and mental well-being.

At any one moment, your mind is juggling a multitude of different mental processes. Some of them are helping you pay attention to reading this. Others are helping you translate the black lines on the page into meaningful letter shapes. Others are helping you remember what the words you are reading actually mean. And others still are helping you to make sense of the overall message of the text.

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Together these elements of perception, attention, discrimination and control form some of the critical mental processes which make up the very foundation of your thinking. So much so that most of the time you probably take them for granted. Not surprising perhaps given than much of their functioning occurs under your conscious radar. But imagine if they stopped working properly? If, instead of operating as they normally did, they were disrupted in a way that was harmful to your mental health. Would you even realize it?

Core cognition and mental health disorders

Different mental health disorders are characterized by a heterogeneous array of symptoms. Each disorder is proposed to differ in terms of its symptom profile, although in reality there is considerable overlap between them. And just about all of them are associated with changes in core cognition to some degree. The most obvious one that comes to mind is perhaps attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) which often manifests itself as a failure to stay still and focused. But in patients with psychosis, autism, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder (to name a few) you also find changes to their core cognition that shifts the way they perceive the world around them, alters what they notice in their surroundings, or modifies how they remember knowledge and events.

And if these basics of cognition go awry, then all the other mental, social and emotional processes that heavily rely on them also become distorted. So if you can’t stay focused, as with ADHD, then you will struggle to be productive or engage with your surroundings or with the people around you. Or if your core cognition is biased towards processing certain types of information—as with anxiety, where people unconsciously overvalue negative threat-relevant information—then you end up thinking the world is more frightening than it really is, which adds to the disturbances in your mood.

A continuum of core cognition

But differences in core cognition aren’t just present as part of mental health disorders. They are also apparent within the wider population. And just as there are some people who have poor core cognition, there are others who have exceptional core cognition. Where you fall along this continuum will determine the impact that your core cognition has on your daily life. Whether it is a help or a hindrance. And although the reasons behind these individual differences aren’t fully understood yet, research suggests that it comes down, in part, to how efficiently the brain is wired. Individual differences in cognitive functioning may emerge because some people may be more efficiently wired for certain mental tasks, for instance using fewer biological resources. Individual differences in the way that your neural systems synchronize together and how well they can adapt to changing demands also makes a difference to your cognitive performance. As scientists start to understand these differences better, they can start to reveal biomarkers of cognitive dysfunction, which in turn can help in the development of new therapeutics for mental health symptoms.

Complete view of mental health.

Of course it’s also important to remember that your core cognition is only one strand of your mental health and to gain an accurate insight into your own mental health, and to identify any potential at-risk areas, you need to look at all aspects of your mental and bodily functioning which contribute to your overall mental health. Only then can you start to reveal any areas which need some extra attention, opening up opportunities for self-improvement.

The Mental Health Quotient assessment or MHQ can give you a sense of your core cognition and overall mental well-being. It has been developed by Sapien Labs, a not-for-profit organization, to map the diverse landscape of mental health and ill-health across a large cross-section of the global population.

CLICK HERE to complete your MHQ assessment

About the Author
Tara Thiagarajan Ph.D.

Tara Thiagarajan, Ph.D., is the Founder and Chief Scientist at Sapien Labs, which researches brain activity and its relation to mental health.