UEL Baby Dev Lab

How the development of executive function influences our moment-by-moment interactions with the real-world environment

Wass, S. 2021. PsyArXiv

Historically, the study of executive function (EF) development has relied on using experimental paradigms to assess EFs as abstract, time-invariant properties of individual brains. Here, we discuss new research that moves away from studying EFs purely as internal mental constructs, towards an approach that aims to understand how EFs are expressed through the inter-relationship between an individual’s brain and the world around them. We offer three illustrative examples of this approach. The first looks at how we learn to make predictions and anticipations based on different types of regularity in our early social and physical environment. The second looks at how we learn to correct, moment-by-moment, for changes in the outside world to maintain stability in the face of change. The third looks at how we allocate our attention on a moment-by-moment basis, in naturalistic settings. We discuss potential new therapeutic avenues for improving EFs arising from this research.