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Executive functions and language development

Matt Hilton, Department of Developmental Psychology, University of Potsdam, Germany

A central aim of the DFG-funded research unit “Crossing the Borders” is to better understand how general cognitive functions drive development across different domains. To this end, we have designed and implemented a battery of eye-tracking tasks that measure individual differences in the following cognitive functions: inhibitory control, sustained attention, recognition memory and processing speed. These cognitive functions have all been implicated in models of Executive Function (EF), typically defined as the controlled co-ordination of cognitive and action processes in the pursuit of goals. Our research unit has been testing this eye-tracking battery on an increasingly large sample of children at the ages of 12, 24 and 36 months. We will use this data as a starting point for thinking about the measurement and development of EF during infancy and early childhood. For a large subset of children, we have also taken measures of receptive and productive language skills, prompting for a discussion of the potential relations between EF and language development.

The eye-tracking tasks are based on methods described in the following papers:

  • Rose, S. A., Feldman, J. F., Jankowski, J. J., & Caro, D. M. (2002). A longitudinal study of visual expectation and reaction time in the first year of life. Child Development, 73, 47–61. doi:10.1111/1467-8624.00391
  • Kovács, A. M., & Mehler, J. (2009). Cognitive gains in 7-month-old bilingual infants. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106(16), 6556–6560. doi:10.1073/pnas.0811323106
  • Rose, S. A., Feldman, J. F., & Jankowski, J. J. (2001). Attention and recognition memory in the 1st year of life: A longitudinal study of preterm and full-term infants. Developmental Psychology, 37(1), 135–151. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.37.1.135

Further readings

  • Hendry, A., Jones, E. J., & Charman, T. (2016). Executive function in the first three years of life: Precursors, predictors and patterns. Developmental Review, 42, 1–33. doi:10.1016/j.dr.2016.06.005
  • Rose, S. A., Feldman, J. F., & Jankowski, J. J. (2012). Implications of infant cognition for executive functions at age 11. Psychological Science, 23(11), 1345–1355. doi:10.1177/0956797612444902
  • Wass, S. V. (2015). Applying cognitive training to target executive functions during early development. Child Neuropsychology, 21(2), 150–166. doi:10.1080/09297049.2014.882888