The higher, or more complex, neural functions are mainly carried out by parts of the brain, particularly areas of the cerebral cortex, and include cognition, emotion, and consciousness.
Cognition involves “thinking” types of activities that can be categorized several ways. Memory and learning involve changing information, or encoding it, to a form that can be stored and then later recalled or used in some way. Language involves turning thoughts into words, or signs representing words, and vice versa; this includes spoken, written, or signed communication. The executive functions are a collection of cognitive activities that involve controlling the other cognitive functions and behavior to achieve goals. Executive functions include things like prioritizing, planning, and behaving in socially-appropriate ways. There are many other cognitive functions, as well. Many parts of the brain participate in cognitive functions.
Emotions involve “feeling” types of activities, which play a major role in a person’s experiences and behaviors. Emotions may be positive or negative, and strongly relate to motivation. Many parts of the brain participate in emotional functions.
Consciousness is difficult to define, but could be said to involve awareness of having an identity and experiences, and the feeling of having control of one’s behavior. The terms arousal, responsiveness, level of consciousness, or level of alertness are often use to describe responsiveness to stimuli of varying intensities, from quiet sounds to painful physical stimuli. These concepts are related, because some degree of arousal is necessary for any amount of awareness of one’s identity, experiences, or behavior. Many parts of the brain participate in consciousness.