Memory, Learning and Cognition

Cognition is the term used to define the process of thoughts, including memory, awareness, reasoning and perception. Cognitive enhancement describes the improvement of the information processing systems of the mind and the extension of its main capacities, which can be undertaken simply by learning, especially during early development.

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Interventions to improve cognitive function therefore affect attention, judgement, understanding and memory and use this to guide behavior and co-ordinate motor output. It is thought that limiting beliefs, removing psychological barriers and increasing confidence may all improve cognitive function.

Cognitive enhancement includes both medical and psychological interventions, the most obvious, conventional method being education and training for the improvement of concentration and critical thinking. Medical interventions involve the use of nootropic drugs also known as 'smart drugs' which have physiological effects on the brain. Nootropic drugs are used in the reduction of neurotoxins and alleviation of cognitive deficits in the damaged brain. They work by increasing the supply of neurochemicals and oxygen to the brain or by stimulating nerve growth. Nootropic drugs act to improve learning, memory, resistance to disruptive conditions and injury, and the efficacy of cortical control. Dietry supplements, such as vitamins and nutrients also act as nootropic agents by frequently replenishing neurotransmitters in the brain. Other 'cognitive enhancers' include caffeine, nicotine and hallucinogens.

Numerous disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), schizophrenia, dementia, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease are characterized by cognitive impairment. Means of cognitive enhancement may be employed to improve cognitive flexibility in these cases. However, cognitive enhancement remains to be controversial, especially with the notion of enhancer drugs becoming available for general consumption. This has become more recently apparent with students attempting to increase their alertness and concentration with drugs such as Ritalin, widely used in for ADHD sufferers.