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Attention and the Early Development of Cognitive Control: Infants’ and Toddlers’ Performance on the A-not-B task
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Psychology.
2012 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

In the first years of life there is a dramatic development of cognitive abilities supporting cognitive control of behavior. This development allows the child to make future-oriented predictions and to increasingly act in a goal-directed manner. The early development of cognitive control is presumably closely tied to the maturation of the attention systems. Further, attentional control processes have been suggested to be the unifying construct underlying cognitive control in both children and adults. The general aim of the present thesis was to further our understanding of the early development of cognitive control. This aim was approached by examining the attention processes underlying cognitive control in infancy and toddlerhood, with a particular focus on age-related improvements in attentional control. This thesis consists of three studies that have used the A-not-B paradigm to investigated infants’ and toddlers’ ability to search for a hidden object or to correctly anticipate the reappearance of a hidden object. The A-not-B paradigm is one of few well-studied paradigms for research on the early development of cognitive control and this paradigm involves conflict resolution and requires a flexible shift of response set to achieve a goal.

Study I of this thesis examined individual differences in 10-month-olds’ ability to search for a hidden object in a manual A-not-B task. We investigated the infants’ search behavior, both in terms looking and reaching responses, the relation between individual differences in performance on A and B trials, and also the relation between the two response modalities.

Study II used eye tracking and focused on the role of attentional demand on 10- and 12-month-olds’ ability to anticipate the reappearance of a hidden object. This study intended to clarify age-related improvements, particularly in relation to the ability to resist visually distracting information that interfered with the task at hand.

Study III also employed an eye tracker to measure 18-month-olds’ predictive eye movements in anticipation of a hidden object under conditions marked by different attention demands. This study not only investigated the toddlers’ ability to overcome a visual distractor, but also their ability to keep a representation in actively in mind over different delays. In addition, the 18-month-olds’ performance was compared to that of an adult group to shed further light on the development of attentional control in children.

In conclusion, this thesis demonstrated that important age-related improvements in cognitive control take place by the end of the first year of life and between 12 and 18 months of age. More specifically, with increasing age, the children were able to resolve higher levels of conflict thereby demonstrating improvements in attentional control. In interpreting the present data, we argue that this development is gradual, developing from variable to stable and also that the attentional control process is best described as continuous rather dichotomous in infancy and toddlerhood. Based on our findings, future research should be motivated to examine changes in attentional control processes in relation to the early development of cognitive development.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis , 2012. , 67 p.
Series
Digital Comprehensive Summaries of Uppsala Dissertations from the Faculty of Social Sciences, ISSN 1652-9030 ; 74
Keyword [en]
cognitive control, attention, eye tracking, children, A-not-B
National Category
Psychology
Research subject
Psychology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-164299ISBN: 978-91-554-8253-4 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-164299DiVA: diva2:476696
Public defence
2012-02-24, Gustavianium, Uppsala, 10:15 (Swedish)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2012-02-02 Created: 2011-12-19 Last updated: 2016-02-25Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. Individual differences in 10-month-olds' performance on the A-not-B task
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Individual differences in 10-month-olds' performance on the A-not-B task
2014 (English)In: Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, ISSN 0036-5564, E-ISSN 1467-9450, Vol. 55, no 2, 130-135 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

This study used the classical A-not-B task (Piaget, ) to explore individual differences in cognitive flexibility in 10-month-old infants by: (1) examining how differences in search performance during A trials relate to search performance during B trials; (2) studying the relation between temperamental dimensions and A-not-B performance; and (3) investigating differences in search performance between looking and reaching responses within the same task. Forty infants were tested on a fixed-design-version of the A-not-B task, not allowing for training or individual adjustment, but instead eliciting additional search behaviors than the common correct responses in A trials and perseverative errors in B trials. Infants were also rated by their parents on the temperamental scales Activity level and Attention span. The main findings were: (1) performance on A trials affected B trial performance, with infants being more correct on A trials having more incorrect and less 'no search' responses on B trials; (2) activity level, but not attention span, was related to performance on the A-not-B task, with infants performing better on A trials having a lower activity level; and (3) there were a few differences in performance with regard to modality, indicating that responding correctly by looking may be less cognitively demanding than doing so by reaching. This study demonstrated that 10-month-olds show a wide variation of search behaviors on this A-not-B task, resulting in individual differences in performance. These differences are suggested to reflect variation in temperamental activity level as well as maturity of short term/working memory, inhibition and cognitive flexibility.

Keyword
infancy, individual differences, cognitive flexibility, A-not-B
National Category
Social Sciences
Research subject
Psychology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-223882 (URN)10.1111/sjop.12109 (DOI)000333054400006 ()
Available from: 2014-05-05 Created: 2014-04-28 Last updated: 2017-12-05Bibliographically approved
2. Attention demands influence 10- and 12-month-old infants' perseverative behavior.
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Attention demands influence 10- and 12-month-old infants' perseverative behavior.
Show others...
2012 (English)In: Developmental Psychology, ISSN 0012-1649, E-ISSN 1939-0599, Vol. 48, no 1, 46-55 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

The present study examined the role of attentional demand on infants' perseverative behavior in a noncommunicative looking version of an A-not-B task. The research aimed at clarifying age-related improvements in the attention process that presumably underlies the development of cognitive control. In a between-subjects design, forty 10-month-olds and forty 12-month-olds were assigned to either a distractor or a no-distractor condition as a means of testing the role of attentional load. The authors used an eye tracker to record infants' looking behavior while they anticipated the reappearance of the target of interest as well as continuously throughout the task. The data demonstrated that 10-month-olds show more perseverative looking than do 12-month-olds and that increased attentional demand leads to more perseverative looking. Correct anticipation, however, was not affected by age or distraction. The results also failed to show that 12-month-olds are better than 10-month-olds at handling the increased attentional demand introduced in the distractor condition, in that the effect of the distractor was not larger for the younger infants. Our results are in line with the theoretical view of cognitive control as dependent on a limited attentional resource, which can explain perseverative behaviors in different tasks and at different ages.

National Category
Social Sciences
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-164108 (URN)10.1037/a0025412 (DOI)000298965200005 ()21910526 (PubMedID)
Available from: 2011-12-16 Created: 2011-12-16 Last updated: 2017-12-08Bibliographically approved
3. The Role of Attentional Control in the A-not-B task: Comparing Anticipatory Looking in 18-Month-Olds and Adults
Open this publication in new window or tab >>The Role of Attentional Control in the A-not-B task: Comparing Anticipatory Looking in 18-Month-Olds and Adults
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
National Category
Social Sciences
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-164297 (URN)
Available from: 2011-12-19 Created: 2011-12-19 Last updated: 2012-02-15

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