UEL Baby Dev Lab

Contingencies and periodicities: two types of predictability in children’s real-world environment that might influence the executive control of attention.

Wass, S. 2022. PsyArxiv

Previous research has suggested that children raised in unpredictable and unresponsive environments show worse executive control of attention. Here, we leverage recent findings from developmental neuroscience to discuss how environmental predictability might facilitate executive control development. We focus on two types of predictability: contingent responsiveness (i.e. ‘every time I do X, then Y happens’), and temporal predictability (i.e. ‘at X time intervals, Y happens’). We discuss the mechanisms through which predictability in one aspect of the environment can drive behavioural sensitivity to that aspect to be selectively increased, relative to other less predictable aspects. This selective enhancement is similar to the effect of executive attention, but driven by external properties of the environment. Thus, predictable aspects of the environment are, in the short term, easier to pay attention to than unpredictable ones. We discuss how these short-term effects can lead to long-term improvements in executive attention control.