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Cognitive flexibility definition

Cognitive flexibility definition

Cognitive flexibility definition

Cognitive flexibility definition. Cognitive flexibility refers to the ability to switch between thinking about two different concepts or thinking about multiple concepts simultaneously. In animal models, cognitive flexibility generally refers to the ability to switch a behavioural response according to the context of a situation (Scott, 1962).


In humans, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) shows that specific brain regions, including the prefrontal, anterior cingulate and posterior parietal cortices, and basal ganglia, are activated when a person engages in task-switching procedures that require cognitive flexibility (Leber et al., 2008).


Cognitive flexibility declines with age and often results in an inability to adapt to new situations and environments. The Wisconsin card sorting task, which requires individuals to adapt to new rules, shows that normal ageing decreases cognitive flexibility in humans (Boone et al., 1993).


Individuals with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), an intermediate stage between normal ageing-related memory changes and Alzheimer’s disease, exhibit even further impairment in cognitive flexibility (Ballesteros et al., 2013).


IQ is often hailed as a crucial driver of success, particularly in fields such as science, innovation, and technology. In fact, many people have an endless fascination with the IQ scores of famous people.


But the truth is that some of the greatest achievements by our species have primarily relied on qualities such as creativity, imagination, curiosity, and empathy.


Many of these traits are embedded in what scientists call “cognitive flexibility” – a skill that enables us to switch between different concepts or to adapt behaviour to achieve goals in a novel or changing environment.


It is essentially about learning to learn and being able to be flexible about the way you learn. This includes changing strategies for optimal decision-making. In our ongoing research, we are trying to work out how people can best boost their cognitive flexibility.


Cognitive flexibility definition provides us with the ability to see that what we are doing is not leading to success and to make the appropriate changes to achieve it. If you normally take the same route to work, but there are now roadworks on your usual route, what do you do?


Some people remain rigid and stick to the original plan, despite the delay. More flexible people adapt to an unexpected event and problem-solve to find a solution.


Cognitive flexibility may have affected how people coped with the pandemic lockdowns, which produced new challenges around work and schooling. Some of us found it easier than others to adapt our routines to do many activities from home.


Such flexible people may also have changed these routines from time to time, trying to find better and more varied ways of going about their day. Others, however, struggled and ultimately became more rigid in their thinking. They stuck to the same routine activities, with little flexibility or change.


Characteristics of  someone with strong cognitive flexibility may be the following


  • Good mental shifting allows you to adapt quickly to changes or new situations.
  • Cognitive flexibility helps tolerate changes that may occur when problem-solving or carrying out a task. It allows you to create alternative solutions.
  • People with good cognitive shifting are easily able to transition from one activity to another and know-how to carry themselves properly in every situation.
  • They can capture various dimensions of reality, see from different points of view, and recognize hidden relationships, which allows them to easily find different solutions to the same problem.


People with cognitive flexibility can better tolerate errors and changes, are able to think about a situation from another person’s point of view, and are easily able to find compromises.


Cognitive flexibility definition. Cognitive flexibility is the basic superior cognitive function in metacognition and makes up part of our Executive Functions. Executive functions are a crucial part of success and proper development both at school and in daily life.


It allows you to make goals, plan, carry out the plan, supervise your own actions, and correct your behaviour depending on the results.


Cognitive flexibility is related to fluid intelligence, fluid reasoning, and the ability to problem-solve easily and efficiently.


Proper mental shifting and cognitive flexibility allow you to think about other ideas, values, and ways of thinking, which will help understand other people’s points of view and value others’ opinions. This is why mental flexibility is strongly related to empathy and social interaction.


Cognitive flexibility meaning

Cognitive flexibility meaning

Cognitive flexibility meaning. Cognitive flexibility reflects the ability to switch quickly between tasks or stimulus sets, which is an important feature of human intelligence. Researchers have confirmed that this ability is related to the learners’ academic achievement, cognitive ability, and creativity development.


A number-letter switching task is an effective tool for measuring cognitive flexibility. Previous studies have found that high flexibility individuals perform better in rule-based tasks such as the Iowa Gambling Task.


It is not clear whether highly flexible learners have learning advantages when the rule tasks involve probabilistic cues. Using an inter-individual differences approach, we examined whether cognitive flexibility, as assessed by the number-letter task, is associated with the learning process of a probabilistic rule task.


The results showed that the high flexibility group reached a higher level of rule acquisition, and the accuracy during the post-learning stage was significantly higher than the low flexibility group.


These findings demonstrate that cognitive flexibility meaning is associated with the performance after the rule acquisition during the probabilistic rule task. Future research should explore the internal process of learning differences between high and low flexibility learners by using other technologies across multiple modes.


Examples of cognitive flexibility


Cognitive flexibility definition. From the time you wake up to the time you go to sleep, you use your cognitive flexibility and mental shifting almost constantly. How can you see cognitive shifting in your daily life?


One example is when you’re getting ready to have breakfast and you realise that there’s no milk left. What do you do? Do you get mad and go to school or work without eating? Do you go to a café and eat there? Do you have something else for breakfast?


Cognitive flexibility allows you to think about other options when your original plan is altered by an unexpected change.


If your good friend stops talking to you, mental flexibility helps you think about why this may be. It allows you to think about things that have happened, and come up with a possible reason as to why they may not be talking to you.


Cognitive flexibility meaning. If you can think about things from other people’s points of view, it helps you put yourself in their situation and think about what may have happened.

You always take the same route to work.


One day, it’s pouring rain and you know that there will be traffic for miles. What do you do? You could take the train, you could leave the house early and try to get ahead of the traffic, or you could take other public transportation in hopes that you make it to work earlier.


Your original plans or routine were changed by an unexpected situation, but your cognitive flexibility allows you to think of possible alternative solutions to help you get to work on time.


You’ll have to use the same abilities that you use when making a decision: experience, expectations, motivation, knowledge, and emotions.


If you ring the doorbell and no one opens the door, you’ll infer that no one is home rather than continuing to ring the doorbell to an empty house. Being able to understand this and look for another solution is another example of mental flexibility.


You start looking for other ways to get in touch: calling the person to see where they are and if they will be back soon.


The opposite of cognitive flexibility is cognitive rigidity or cognitive inflexibility.


What is cognitive rigidity? Cognitive rigidity is the consequence of a lack of mental flexibility. It could be defined as the inability to change behaviour or beliefs when they are ineffective in order to reach your objective.


Cognitive rigidity could cause alterations in the regulation of the behaviour, creating inefficient behavioural patterns.


Cognitive rigidity is mostly suffered by autistic people because of their health condition which prevents them from thinking logically or multitasking. Although even some people whose mental condition is stable sometimes find it difficult to give a solution to the simplest problem.


Such people require cognitive flexibility training to improve their mental flexibility. There is also training autistic people can engage in to help them as well.


If you were asked to say words that begin with the letter “A”, without being able to use proper nouns, and the only word you could think of was “Anthony”, you would be experiencing cognitive rigidity, as you would be unable to create alternatives to “Anthony”.


The feeling that this phenomenon causes is feeling “stuck”, without being able to find a way out.


Cognitive rigidity can have negative consequences in daily life, as you may find that there are often situations that require you to create alternative strategies or solutions.


There are different degrees of cognitive flexibility or rigidity. The earlier example would be an extreme degree of cognitive rigidity, but other cases may not be so clear.


However, even lower degrees of cognitive rigidity will likely interrupt daily life (when a child has a hard time changing from subject to subject without forgetting information).


Cognitive flexibility definition. Why do some people have cognitive rigidity? The human brain likes stability and tries to avoid instability however it can. Someone with a high degree of cognitive rigidity may need to adjust to a change in a certain situation but will be unable to adapt their behaviour or way of thinking.


It’s normal to have a hard time adapting to changes, but people with poor mental shifting will have a much harder time than someone else.


Cognitive flexibility scale

Cognitive flexibility scale

Cognitive flexibility scale. The complexities of everyday life reinforce the need to be cognitively flexible. Cognitive flexibility refers to a person’s awareness of communication alternatives, willingness to adapt to the situation, and self‐efficacy in being flexible.


Three studies were conducted to establish further the validity of the Cognitive Flexibility Scale (Martin & Rubin, 1995). In Study One, cognitive flexibility was positively related to two other identified constructs of communication competence, assertiveness, and responsiveness.


In Study Two, respondents’ assessments of their own cognitive flexibility were positively related to ratings from their friends. In Study Three, a positive relationship was found between being cognitively flexible and confidence in performing communication behaviours.


Another research paper discusses the validation process of the cognitive flexibility scale (CFS) as a measurement instrument for farmers’ cognitive flexibility (CF). The role of CF in influencing behaviour has been established for centuries among psychologists.


Thus, individual differences might be among the correlates of the adoption of cassava processing technology among farmers. However, the lack of an effective instrument to measure farmers’ CF has been limiting the predictive and descriptive potential of farmers’ CF.


The instrument was validated in a two stages study with some specific objectives guiding the study namely;


Assess the instrument’s component structure validity and reliability of the Cognitive flexibility scale, examine whether CFS could categorise farmers’ performance in cognitive flexibility by farmers’ demographics; and whether or not cognitive flexibility has an influence on farmers’ adoption of cassava farming technologies.


In the first stage, the instrument was pilot tested in a survey conducted in the Serengeti district in the Mara region of Tanzania among 200 participants. Principal component analysis (CPA) indicated that the Cognitive flexibility scale was a three-factor scale with good internal consistency (α = 0.85).


The three factors found were technology acceptance (α = 0.92), open-mindedness (α = 0.86), and adapting to new situations (α = 0.37). In the second stage, a total of 360 participants, of whom 181 were males and 178 were females responded to the CFS.


It was found that the improved CFS was a three-factor scale reaching an internal consistency of α = 0.85. The three subscales in the CFS were adapting to new farming technologies (α = 0.88), acceptance of new farming technologies (α = 0.86), and open-mindedness to other people’s ideas (α = 0.80).


The findings further indicate low correlations among the subscales, implying the discriminant validity of the scale. In addition to theoretical implications, the paper discusses the measure’s effectiveness and its potential applicability in the field of rural development and with a specific focus on the adoption of farming technologies.


The findings provide support for the validity and reliability of the CFS and its multidimensional nature. It is recommended that one needs to consider contextual factors such as the level of cassava processing technology before generalising the validity and reliability of CFS, and thus, a need for further validation studies of the instrument.


Cognitive flexibility test

Cognitive flexibility test

Cognitive flexibility test. People who are high on rigidity have difficulty with adapting to new environments, tend to think in terms of stereotypes, and may seem argumentative or oppositional. On the positive side, rigidity is associated with goal-oriented behaviour.


Mental flexibility is a trait that helps you adjust to new circumstances, deal with different kinds of people and build better relationships. It also allows you to see new possibilities and think outside the box.


To engage in the cognitive flexibility test/ cognitive rigidity, check all that apply.


  1. I am not particularly self-conscious.
  • True
  • False


  1. I don’t take breaks while working.
  • True
  • False


  1. I take time to listen to the opinions of other people.
  • True
  • False


  1. Sometimes I get stuck in my thinking and can’t see new possibilities.
  • True
  • False


  1. I don’t procrastinate.
  • True
  • False


  1. I am good at multitasking.
  • True
  • False


  1. I like to plan things in advance.
  • True
  • False


  1. I am spontaneous.
  • True
  • False


  1. I don’t have a habit of double-checking things.
  • True
  • False


  1. I can be friends with people whose actions I don’t approve of.
  • True
  • False


  1. Sometimes I can’t focus very well.
  • True
  • False


  1. I like people watching.
  • True
  • False


What makes you the way you are? Take a cognitive flexibility test to discover your personality type.


  1. I can admit my mistakes.
  • True
  • False


  1. I don’t over-explain myself to people who don’t want to understand.
  • True
  • False


  1. I pursue my goals despite obstacles.
  • True
  • False


  1. I love to travel and explore new things.
  • True
  • False


  1. I am easily distracted.
  • True
  • False


  1. I don’t get angry easily.
  • True
  • False


  1. I am open to new experiences.
  • True
  • False


  1. I hate distractions.
  • True
  • False


  1. I always notice changes in my surroundings.
  • True
  • False


  1. I am very orderly.
  • True
  • False


  1. I often say “no” to things without even thinking.
  • True
  • False


  1. I defend my point of view until everybody agrees with me.
  • True
  • False


  1. I prefer familiar things.
  • True
  • False


  1. I am a very persistent person.
  • True
  • False


  1. I keep my promises.
  • True
  • False


  1. I always finish what I start.
  • True
  • False


  1. I was told I am stubborn.
  • True
  • False


  1. I enjoy perfecting my skills.
  • True
  • False


Cognitive flexibility theory

Cognitive flexibility theory

Cognitive flexibility theory. Teaching that involves memorization and superficial familiarity with general concepts is easy enough. But what about the learning that can’t prepare you for every contingency, that doesn’t lend itself to principles that can be applied in every instance?


It is in this domain of ill-structured complexity and advanced knowledge that Spiro has pioneered Cognitive Flexibility Theory, and along with his colleagues has sought to refashion teaching and learning for an ever-changing and complex world.


Cognitive Flexibility Theory is about preparing people to select, adapt, and combine knowledge and experience in new ways to deal with situations that are different than the ones they have encountered before,” says Spiro, a professor of learning, technology, and culture in the Department of Counselling, Educational Psychology, and Special Education.


“It is the flexible application of knowledge in new contexts that concerns me. There are always new contexts and you just can’t rely on old templates. Cognitive security is what people want. It doesn’t work in the modern world of work and life.”


With cognitive flexibility, Spiro makes the case for a different kind of instruction. Among the tenets of this new approach are that instruction needs to provide students with multiple representations of content, should be case-based, and emphasise knowledge construction (instead of transmission of information), and knowledge sources should be highly interconnected.


The application of these principles will help people to use knowledge in new ways to suit the purposes of different situations.


The theory is largely concerned with the transfer of knowledge and skills beyond their initial learning situation. For this reason, emphasis is placed upon the presentation of information from multiple perspectives and the use of many case studies that present diverse examples.


The theory also asserts that effective learning is context-dependent, so instruction needs to be very specific. In addition, the theory stresses the importance of constructed knowledge; learners must be given an opportunity to develop their own representations of information in order to properly learn.


Cognitive flexibility theory builds upon other constructivist theories (e.g., constructivist, subsumption, genetic epistemology) and is related to the work of symbol systems in terms of media and learning interaction.




Cognitive flexibility theory is specially formulated to support the use of interactive technology (e.g., videodisc, hypertext). Its primary applications have been literary comprehension, history, biology, and medicine.


Cognitive flexibility training

Cognitive flexibility training

Cognitive flexibility training. Cognitive flexibility refers to our ability to disengage from one task and respond to another or think about multiple concepts at the same time.


Someone who is cognitively flexible will be able to learn more quickly, solve problems more creatively, and adapt and respond to new situations more effectively, which is why it’s so important in both educational settings and the workplace.


According to a 2016 report from the World Economic Forum that looked at the future of jobs across nine different industries in 15 of the world’s largest economies, employers will soon be placing more emphasis on cognitive abilities like creativity and adaptability.


So whether you’re a student or a working professional, building your cognitive flexibility is a great way to develop professionally and keep up with the ever-changing work environment of the future.


If you’re solving a problem, you might choose the obvious path or you might recall a similar challenge from your past or a story a friend told you about solving a similar challenge, or something you saw in a film.


The act of using memory from a past to solve a current problem—not because you’ve encountered this problem before but because you are able to make a connection between this one and a different one (detect a pattern)—this ability is at the heart of cognitive flexibility.


It’s the same process going on when you hear someone’s story and you respond with your own, recognizing a similar theme. This is harder than it sounds. You might have a better, more relevant story—but you can’t remember it at the moment. Improving your ability to remember it would be enhancing cognitive flexibility. As would improving your ability to recall relevant facts/things you’ve read when someone brings up a specific topic in conversation.


To think flexibly, you must be able to draw from multiple reserves of knowledge and memory to engage with a task or problem. You need an ability to reach deeply into the past and not just draw your immediate reserves, which requires a very good declarative memory.


Being able to see all possible relevant experiences or bites of knowledge at once and choose the best response based on all of those, but most of us can’t recall enough at the moment…how do we improve at that function?


One of the best ways to become more cognitively flexible is to expose yourself to new experiences and ways of doing things, but if you’re not sure where to start, here are a few cognitive flexible training ideas.


  1. Alter your everyday routine.


If you’re looking for a simple way to start building your cognitive flexibility, you can start by changing up your routine and doing everyday things differently.


For instance, if you’re accustomed to taking the same route to work each day, look for a different route or consider taking the bus instead of driving yourself. If you usually get your exercise at the gym, change things up by running in the park or going for a bike ride.


Even making the smallest of changes like sitting at a new spot at the dinner table or using your left hand to brush your teeth instead of your right can help you build and strengthen new neural pathways.


  1. Seek out new experiences.


Cognitive flexibility definition. Each time you experience something out of the ordinary or learn something new, the brain creates new synaptic connections. New and interesting experiences have also been shown to trigger the release of dopamine, which not only increases motivation but also enhances memory and learning.


So going out of your way to experience new things or engage in novel activities can go a long way toward helping you develop cognitive flexibility.


This might mean travelling to another country or volunteering in a new industry, but it could also take the form of activities like learning a new language or musical instrument, taking a dance class, or even exploring a part of town you’re not familiar with.


  1. Practice thinking creatively.


Another way to build cognitive flexibility is to make an effort to think in unconventional and creative ways or practice divergent thinking.


One study by psychologist Dr. Robert Steinberg showed that when students were taught to think in both creative and practical ways, not only did their grades improve, but they were also able to transfer the knowledge they gained to entirely different areas of learning.


Divergent thinking usually occurs in a spontaneous and free-flowing manner and involves thinking in terms of unlimited possibilities rather than a limited set of choices. Want to know more? Check out this article for tips on how to inspire divergent thinking.


  1. Don’t always take the easy way.


Cognitive flexibility training. These days we have technology and apps that make our lives easier in countless ways, from spell check and autocorrect to GPS. But the truth is that making things easier for ourselves isn’t always the best thing for our cognitive flexibility.


Research shows that introducing so-called “desirable difficulties” can lead to deeper learning, so by making a point of not always choosing the easiest way of doing things, you can keep your mind sharp and even learn through your everyday experiences.


For instance, if you’re driving to an area you’re not familiar with, try to navigate your way using a map and asking for directions rather than using your GPS, or instead of reaching for your phone the minute you need to make a calculation, grab a pen and paper, and do it the old-fashioned way.


  1. Go out of your way to meet new people.


Cognitive flexibility definition. Meeting people from different cultures and walks of life whose perspectives and viewpoints are likely to differ from your own can help you to be less rigid in your way of thinking and accept that there may be more than one “right” way of looking at things.


Research shows that people who are exposed to situations that challenge their ideas about what’s right and wrong tend to have greater cognitive flexibility. One study, in particular, found that college students who had been exposed to diversity and cultural differences were more likely to have reached an advanced stage of moral reasoning.


So make an effort to meet people outside of your normal social circles, whether that means travelling abroad, volunteering, teaching, or connecting with people through social media.


  1. Transfer your learning.


Learning to transfer what you’ve learned in one context into a new context can be a great exercise in cognitive flexibility, because it forces you to form new connections between previously unconnected networks of knowledge and think more creatively.


Without the ability to transfer skills and knowledge to new contexts, your learning won’t have as great an impact.


For instance, one study found that although street children were able to perform complex mathematical calculations when selling their wares, they weren’t able to answer equivalent problems that were presented to them in a school context.


If you want to develop your ability to transfer knowledge, research shows that explaining a new concept in your own words not only helps you identify any incorrect assumptions, but also helps you to generalise a concept for future application.


Once you’re sure you understand the concept, you can look for ways to apply it in real-world situations.


  1. Challenge your morals.


Cognitive flexibility definition. Research shows that seeking out experiences that test your morals and expose you to a variety of beliefs, values, and expectations can give you a better understanding of culturally different perspectives and help you become more flexible in your thinking.



Even if you don’t necessarily agree with someone’s point of view or belief system, being cognitively flexible means you’ll be able to think about why they might see things that way and understand their point of view.


This ability will make it easier for you to communicate with people, resolve conflicts, and adapt your thinking to various situations.


Of course, travel is one way to challenge your way of thinking, but even just reading about moral dilemmas and thinking about them critically can help you develop in this area.


Just remember that the more you go out of your way to do things differently, engage in new experiences, and interact with different people, the more flexible your thinking will become.


Cognitive flexibility inventory

Cognitive flexibility inventory

Cognitive flexibility inventory. The Cognitive Flexibility Inventory (CFI) is a 20-item self-report measure to monitor how often individuals engage in cognitive behavioural thought challenging interventions (Dennis & Vander Wal, 2010).


Cognitive flexibility enables individuals to think adaptively when encountering stressful life events, and is a core skill that helps individuals avoid becoming stuck in maladaptive patterns of thinking. The CFI measures two aspects of cognitive flexibility:


Alternatives – the adaptive ability to perceive multiple alternative explanations for life occurrences and the ability to generate multiple alternative solutions to difficult situations.


Control – having an internal locus of control, or the tendency to perceive difficult situations as somewhat controllable.


Individuals with high cognitive flexibility are more likely to react adaptively in response to difficult life experiences, while cognitively inflexible individuals are more susceptible to experiencing pathological reactions.


The Cognitive flexibility inventory has been shown to differentiate between a clinical group (anxiety and depression) and a non-clinical sample (Johnco, Wuthrich, & Rapee, 2014), with a clinical group showing significantly lower CFI total and subscale scores than the non-clinical group.


When administered multiple times during a course of cognitive behavioural therapy the scale can be useful in indicating treatment response.


Psychometric properties


The 20-item CFI showed high test-retest reliability for the full score (r = .81), Alternatives subscale (r = .75), and Control subscale (r = .77; Dennis & Vander Wal, 2010). Cronbach’s alpha ranged from good to excellent, for the Alternatives subscale (alpha = .91),


Control subscale (alpha = .86), and the full score (alpha = .90; Dennis & Vander Wal, 2010). Furthermore, evidence was obtained for the convergent construct validity of the CFI and its two subscales via their associations with other measures of cognitive flexibility, depressive symptomatology, and coping (Dennis & Vander Wal, 2010).


In a sample of 196 university students (Dennis & Vander Wal, 2010), the mean scores were as follows:


  • CFI total – 102.98 (SD = 13.91)
  • Alternatives Subscale – 67.59 (SD = 9.41)
  • Control Subscale 35.35 (SD = 7.02)


Scoring and interpretation


Scores consist of a total Cognitive flexibility inventory score and two subscale scores. The total score ranges between 20 and 140, where higher scores indicate more cognitive flexibility.


A normative percentile for the total score and subscales are calculated, comparing the respondent’s scores to a sample of university students (Dennis & Vander Wal, 2010). Percentiles help contextualise how the respondent scored in relation to a typical pattern of responding.


For example, a percentile of 50 indicates the individual has more cognitive flexibility than 50 percent of the normal population. i.e. is average.


Percentiles below approximately 25 represent clinically significant inflexibility, which would be important to target within cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). According to the CBT framework, cognitive inflexibility underpins the development and maintenance of depression and anxiety.


A graph is presented of average scores (between 1 and 7), indicating the typical response on the Likert scale and normalising scores between subscales.


The two subscales measuring important aspects of cognitive flexibility are:


Alternatives: measuring the ability to perceive multiple alternative explanations for life occurrences and human behaviour and the ability to generate multiple alternative solutions to difficult situations.

Range = 13 to 91

Sum items 1, 3, 5, 6, 8, 10, 12, 13, 14, 16,18, 19, 20


Control: measuring the tendency to perceive difficult situations as controllable.

Range = 7 to 49

Sum items 2, 4, 7, 9, 11, 15, 17

Note that items 2, 4, 7, 9, 11, & 17 are reverse scored.


Cognitive flexibility autism

Cognitive flexibility autism

Cognitive flexibility autism. Many of you are gifted in different ways.  However, you may have noticed that it is sometimes hard to understand other peoples’ perspectives or accept unexpected changes in a normal routine.


Cognitive flexibility is a type of thinking that is often more difficult for individuals with an autism spectrum disorder. This is sometimes referred to in ASD as “rigid thinking”.


What is cognitive flexibility autism?


Think about a gymnast.  In the blink of an eye, she can flip and bend herself into any position and then just as quickly, flip into another one.  It is as if her joints were elastic.


Cognitive flexibility definition is the same, only it is what we do with our minds—flipping our thinking into different positions in order to analyse a problem in many different ways.


Cognitive flexibility can be limited in several ways. For example, it can be difficult to…


  • Think about a particular event, fact, or situation from a perspective that is different from one’s own
  • Think about a particular fact, detail, or event within a larger context
  • “shift gears” when a particular approach isn’t working—that is, switching to a different approach or strategy.
  • Shift gears when something new happens


To sum it up, individuals with ASD sometimes have difficulty flipping from one point of view to another, from a “big picture” perspective to a “close up”, from looking at just one solution to considering many different solutions, and adjusting the plan when something changes.



Examples of difficulty with cognitive flexibility often arise in social situations.  For example, a person with ASD may insist on offering a factually true statement when the social context or a different perspective would indicate that it would be better to remain silent or say something noncommittal.


  1. When students with cognitive flexibility autism are invited to shift their perspectives, they are often taken by surprise. That is because rigid thinking itself often interferes with being aware of one’s own rigid thinking.


They can be baffled and perplexed.  It all seems so illogical. This often results in roadblocks or stalemates in conversation with other people, who are themselves deeply confused that the obviously bright student with ASD does not understand where they are coming from.


This can be a source of conflict and tension during a group project in the classroom or in a social situation.


Example 1


At 22, Graham, a young man with high verbal intelligence, insisted on carrying around his video game console everywhere he went.  He hugged it close to his torso for most of the day as he moved around the campus too and from his dorm and classrooms.


With remarkable clarity, he explained the benefits of having his console with him.  “It works for me,” he explained matter-of-factly, insisting that the console prevented boredom, helped him keep track of time, and alleviated anxiety.


Graham was unable to take in people’s feedback about the negative social and practical consequences of carrying around a video game console everywhere and struggled to come up with an alternative solution.


Example 2


Eliot was a vegetarian.   He often got upset when people around him in the dining hall ate meat or even talked about it.  In these situations, he recited interesting, factual information about the reasons for being a vegetarian.


He was rigid in his belief that eating meat was wrong and couldn’t understand when someone disagreed.  To everyone’s discomfort, he often made sure his position was heard while everyone was eating.


What can you do to address it?


It helps to be aware that cognitive flexibility can be a type of thinking that is difficult even for bright people with mild cognitive flexibility autism.  That is, you can be very intelligent and still struggle with cognitive flexibility.


Knowing that it is unrelated to intelligence might make it easier to accept this about yourself and take some steps to address it.  Here are some tips on how to do so:


  • Be open-minded when someone asks you to shift your perspective. In other words, try to keep your cool and be understanding. Others should try to do the same.


  • Remember the “donkey rule,” which is that “If several people say it is a donkey, then it is a donkey.” If you disagree with an idea that is generally accepted by others, then there may be something you may not have considered.


  • Find a tutor, therapist, or peer whom you trust, to talk over situations in which you are finding it hard to be cognitively flexible.


  • Try an experiment in cognitive flexibility:

The next time you are at an event where several people are gathered, try to imagine and record the interpretation of the event from others’ perspectives, even the dog, a small child, an older person–anyone.


  • The next time you are in a conundrum, try to brainstorm a list of solutions to the problem, and let yourself imagine every possibility, not just the logical ones. Try to practice describing the context of a problem or situation, not just the problem “in a bubble.”


Cognitive flexibility definition conclusion

Cognitive flexibility definition conclusion

Cognitive flexibility definition conclusionCognitive flexibility is important both on a micro and a macro scale in the workplace. It allows you to juggle multiple concepts at once and improve your cognitive function.


You use cognitive flexibility without realising it on a daily basis. This happens when you multitask or when you switch from task to task.


It also happens when you interact with other people and when you go from talking to a customer to your peers.


Cognitive flexibility definition. Without mental flexibility, you’d be unable to ‘switch’ your brain from situation to situation.


It’d be difficult to concentrate on a task and perform it adequately. It’s a necessary cognitive process for productivity.


On a more macro scale, people also exhibit cognitive flexibility when thinking about a:


Product within an industry

The person within a team

Single-step forward when solving a complex problem

Your brain can shift from “zoomed in” to the micro (the product) to “zoomed out” to the macro (the industry).


As a result, cognitive flexibility allows you to solve problems creatively, adapt to curveballs, and act appropriately in varying situations. This is because you’re able to see from a different perspective.


Cognitive flexibility definition conclusion. Being cognitively flexible increases your likelihood of success, too. This ability to quickly adapt to new situations increases one’s brain function and resilience to stress. Cognitively flexible people tend to have increased fluency and comprehension while reading and they have an expanded sense of awareness.


Being cognitively flexible allows you to see different points of view with empathy and understanding, which is a particularly important skill in today’s diverse society! In general, people who possess this skill go further in life.


Think about it, if you were a manager picking between an employee who is stuck in their ways and another who is open to ideas and easily adapts to a changing environment, who would you promote?

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