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How your brains thinking speed works

By Jasper02 April 2020

thinking speed cognitive functionWhen talking about thinking speed, many people think about troubles to quickly come up with ideas or solutions. When talking about thinking speed, many people think about troubles to quickly come up with ideas or solutions. While you may simply want to increase your thinking speed, it is actually a bit more complex than that. And your thinking speed has more benefits than just thinking faster while trying to solve a problem such as an equation.
To what extend does thinking speed actually work? And what’s the process behind thinking speed? And why do some people have a faster thinking speed than others? In this article, we’ll explain you everything you need to know about the human thinking speed.

What is thinking speed?

Your thinking speed is one of the main elements of your cognitive process. Your thinking speed is the speed at which you receive information through your senses, process this information and respond to the information received. Your thinking speed is also referred to as the processing speed of your brain.

thinking speed


How thinking speed works

As already mentioned, thinking speed is the time your brain requires to react to stimuli it received. Before we can explain what causes slow or fast thinking speed, it is important to understand this process. So how does the thinking speed process works? What actions does the brain take to create a reaction on stimuli? For this explanation, we’re going to kick a ball and go through the steps our brain takes to make that happen.

Stage 1: Receiving stimuli through senses

The first step of the process is receiving stimuli you are going to react from your senses. This includes everything you see, hear, smell, feel and taste. 
In this example, this means that the image of your surrounding and the ball are being detected by your eyes. We are solely talking about the iconic (sight) sense as an example.

Stage 2: Perception processes stimuli received through senses

Next, your perception interprets the information your brain received through your senses in a form you can understand. The image of your surrounding and the ball will be interpreted as a field of grass, trees and a ball. Your brain gathers this information from memory. Now that you’ve seen the ball and you know that it’s a ball because your memory made this connection. This is also called the perceptual mechanism. 

thinking speed perception


Stage 3: Translation of perceptual information

Now that your brain received the necessary information from your perception, your brain determines the best possible decision for the situation. This is also called the translator mechanism. 
In the example of our ball, this means that your brain translates the received information into the possible decision like kicking the ball with your right or left foot. 

Stage 4: From translation to signal with the effector mechanism 

Now it’s time to determine how to execute the decision that was made during the translation stage. This is also known as the effector mechanism. The effector mechanism receives the previously made decision and translates it into an executable plan ready to send a plan for the relevant part of your brain. After the plan is defined, the plan will be send in the form of a signal. 
In the example of our ball, this means that the part of the brain responsible for moving your body receives the signal. This part of the brain is also called the motor cortex. 

Stage 5: Execution of signal 

The relevant part of the brain receives the signal, resulting in the execution of the desired reaction. Depending on what part of the brain receives the signal, your body might move, you might speak, you might start thinking of a solution for a specific problem, or any other form of reaction. 
In the example, this means that the part of the brain that is responsible for the movement of your body receives the signal. The output in our situation is moving to kick the ball with your right foot. 

Stage 6: Feedback reaction

The final stage is receiving feedback. This occurs in the form of signals within your brain telling you if the performed reaction was successful. Your brain judges the outcome of your reaction by comparing it to other experiences that are stored within your memory. 
Depending on the outcome of your reaction, you might have kicked the ball in the wrong direction because you used the wrong part of your foot. Your brain might determine that the outcome wasn’t as well as that time you scored a goal.

thinking speed process


Why is quick thinking important?

A well developed thinking speed, causes you to react faster to situations. This might have a lot of benefits when executing tasks ranging from easy to hard ones. Important skills relevant to perform these tasks such as planning, problem-solving or staying focussed can be enhanced by a quicker thinking speed.
It might benefit the time in which you are trying to study for a school exam, athletic performance during sport or simply your response time when driving. A well trained and maintained thinking speed can help you stay mentally sharp as you’re getting older.


Is processing speed a sign of intelligence?

While faster thinking speed might help to solve problems or performing tasks quicker, faster thinking speed isn’t a sign of intelligence. Your thinking speed doesn’t say something about you being more or less intelligent than others. But it could mean you find it harder or easier to perform tasks such as reading, math, taking notes, listening. It might also affect other cognitive skills and executive functions such as planning, decision making, facial recognition, divided attention, visual perception, mental flexibility or pattern recognition.
Although faster thinking speed doesn’t mean your more or less intelligent, faster thinking speed enhances other cognitive skills such as your memory and attention. Since the memory and attention play a major roll in learning, having a faster thinking speed might lead to greater intelligence. But to accomplish that, you’d still need to learn and expose your brain to lots and lots of different experiences that life has to offer. Just like a photographic memory wouldn’t mean that you are smart if you always stay at home and never use it.

processing speed intelligence


Does processing speed affect the working memory?

So memory plays an important role in learning, and faster thinking speed could enhance this cognitive skill. But how does that work? As explained in our article about the memory, the working memory can temporarily store a limited amount of information. This means that if you process information slower, the limited storage capacity of your working memory would quickly fill up. Leading to all the other information you could have received to be forgotten by the working memory
So, if your thinking speed is quick, you wouldn’t need to hold as much information within your working memory. Resulting in more information being able to be passed through the short-term memory and eventually the long-term memory.

Fast Thinking vs Efficient, Accurate Thinkingthinking speed efficiency accuracy

While you may sometimes feel like you’re having trouble executing tasks because you aren’t thinking quickly enough, most people actually lack in efficient and accurate thinking. This occurs when forcing your brain to think faster than its limits, causing it to lose accuracy. Your brain is probably already performing as fast as possible while staying efficient and accurate. Yet, a lot of people could push the thinking speed slightly without a risk.
So for most people, their goal isn’t just to improve their thinking speed, but also to retain the efficiency and accuracy when forcing the brain to process faster. So while your thinking might feel slow to you, it might actually be your efficiency or accuracy that are keeping your brain from thinking faster. Thinking fast isn’t very helpful if you aren’t thinking clearly, accurately, or logically. It would just get you to draw incorrect conclusions faster.
So you should work on efficient and accurate thinking instead of fast thinking? Wrong, to preserve the quality of your thinking when forcing your brain to pull up a notch the three are equally important.


What is the cause of slow thinking?

When learning or experiencing something new, new connections are being made within your brain. The more connections your brain has made, the faster your brain is able to process thoughts. This development of new connections is called Neuroplasticity.
Your thinking speed might not be as fast as you’d like or maybe you have the idea that your thinking speed declines. This can be caused by the decline in the amount of these connections. The fewer connections you have, the lower your capacity to store and process information is.
There are lots of causes that might result in the loss of these connections, and thus resulting in the loss of thinking speed. Some of these causes could be:slow thinking speed causes

  • as a result of a brain injury   or mental illness(Dementia, Alzheimer’s etc.)

  • Excessive use of alcohol

  • Vascular risks (Diabetes, smoking, high blood pressure etc.)

  • Depression

  • Overuse of medicines

  • Low levels of important nutrients and vitamins

  • Being tired

  • Asking too much of your brain for a too long time (studying for hours)

  • Aging


How can I improve the processing speed of my brain?

As already mentioned, the processing speed of your brain has everything to do with your brain making internal connections. So, to improve The processing speed of your brain, you have to increase the number of connections within the brain. This allows the signals in your brain to travel faster within your brain. Thanks to Neuroplasticity it is possible for your brain to create new connections, even at an older age. You are probably making new connections right now because you are obtaining new information!
Researches about neurosciences have shown that the more neural circuits we use, the stronger they will become. This also applies to the development of the cognitive skills that enhance your thinking speed.
So how do you improve your thinking speed? Here are some examples of how to not only improve your thinking speed but also your thinking efficiency and accuracy:

  • Don’t try to make major decisions to rapidlyimprove thinking speed

  • Start with trying to perform tasks that you are already good at faster

  • If your time is spent less optimally when multitasking, do one task at a time

  • Ensure enough sleep and rest

  • Continue to learn new things

  • Exercise physically

  • Interact with other people

  • Healthy nutrition

  • Avoid stress

  • Preferably don’t drink any alcohol

  • Challenge your brain with brain training



So, thinking speed is the time spent between receiving a stimulus and responding to it. And there is a lot more involved with thinking speed than just thinking faster. The thinking speed process follows the stages:  receiving stimuli, processing stimuli with perception, translating this to possible decisions, sending a signal and the execution of this signal and eventually receiving feedback. Fast processing speed can enhance other cognitive skills. Although fast thinking speed isn’t the same as being intelligent, it does help to increase your intelligence when you keep on learning and experiencing new things. Yet, faster thinking speed isn’t as useful without efficient and accurate thinking. Different lifestyle choices might positively or negatively affect your processing speed, but there are also causes that you can’t control. Fortunately, challenging your brain can cause your brain to make new connections. Leading to faster processing speed.