DHA influences the development of higher-order cognitive skills


Higher-order cognitive skills enable students to grapple with intellectually sophisticated challenges, to integrate multiple ideas and facts, to undertake difficult problems, and to find effective and creative solutions to problems; besides, reduce the burden on memory and attention to detail. Among the higher-order cognitive skills are included the following:

  • Concept formation and processing (concrete, abstract, verbal and nonverbal concepts).
  • Problem solving (requires an individual to think through a challenge in a systematic fashion, recognizing patterns, using prior knowledge, considering alternative strategies, selecting the best strategy without forgetting the others, etc.).
  • Rules development and utilization, making good use of experience to develop personal rules that can simply work and lessen the burden on memory.
  • Analogical reasoning (the ability to form and understand analogies, the capacity to reason using analogies).
  • Classification skills (the ability to classify objects and words).
  • Divergent/creative thinking (the capacity to elaborate, to discover, unusual similarities or analogies, to link ideas in new and different ways).

The long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids DHA (an omega-3) and ARA (an omega-6) are present in high amounts in the brain and play a key role in brain growth and neurotransmission. Infants supplemented with DHA show improved language and communication skills, and there is evidence that the early development of executive functions (planning, working memory, and attention control) are especially influenced by DHA. There have been reported short-term (at 9 and 10 months) and long-term (in children aged 3-6 years) benefits of long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids supplementation during infancy. In postnatal infant diet, these long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (especially DHA) influence the development of higher-order cognitive skills and have a long-term effect on the development of attention and information processing in childhood.


Willatts P. Effects of nutrition on the development of higher-order cognition. Nestle Nutr Inst Workshop Ser. 2018;89:175-84.