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Attention and Self-regulation in Infancy and Toddlerhood: The Early Development of Executive Functions and Effortful Control
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Psychology.
2015 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Executive functions are higher-order cognitive functions underlying self-regulation of behavior. That is, executive functions make it possible to resolve internal conflicts and behave according to future goals rather than acting on sudden impulses or going on automatic. Very similarly, the temperamental construct of effortful control is defined as being able to inhibit a dominant response, instead acting on a subdominant response. In children, poor executive functions and low levels of effortful control have both been associated with several negative outcomes, such as lower academic achievements and externalizing behavior problems. Although these self-regulatory functions seem to play a very important role in child development, little is still known about them during the first years of life. Furthering the knowledge of early executive functions and effortful control would likely increase the chances of early detection of risks of poor development. The present thesis aimed to investigate individual differences in executive functions and effortful control in infancy and toddlerhood, as well as the early development of, and the relation between, these two functions. The thesis further aimed to investigate the relationship between the self-regulatory functions and activity level, and the possibility of predicting toddlerhood self-regulatory functions with sustained attention in infancy. In Study I, individual differences in 10-month-olds’ rudimentary executive functions were found, and these were related to temperamental activity level. In Study II, individual differences in sustained attention in infancy were found to predict toddlerhood executive functions and effortful control. Both these self-regulatory functions improved significantly from infancy to toddlerhood although the individual stability was low. Executive functions and effortful control were related in toddlerhood but not in infancy. In Study III we replicated and extended the finding of a longitudinal relation between infant sustained attention and toddlerhood executive functions. In addition, partial support for the proposition that executive functions develop in a hierarchical fashion was found, with simple inhibition being predictive of more complex forms of working memory two years later. The results from the three studies combined contribute to a better understanding of the early development of the self-regulatory functions executive functions and effortful control.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, 2015. , 71 p.
Series
Digital Comprehensive Summaries of Uppsala Dissertations from the Faculty of Social Sciences, ISSN 1652-9030 ; 117
Keyword [en]
Executive functions, Effortful control, Sustained attention, Infancy
National Category
Psychology
Research subject
Psychology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-263510ISBN: 978-91-554-9355-4 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-263510DiVA: diva2:858332
Public defence
2015-11-20, Sal IX, Universitetshuset, Biskopsgatan 3, Uppsala, 13:15 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2015-10-27 Created: 2015-10-01 Last updated: 2015-11-10
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. Sustained attention in infancy as a longitudinal predictor of self-regulatory functions
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Sustained attention in infancy as a longitudinal predictor of self-regulatory functions
Show others...
2015 (English)In: Infant Behavior and Development, ISSN 0163-6383, E-ISSN 1879-0453, Vol. 41, 1-11 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Previous literature suggests that attention processes such as sustained attention would con-stitute a developmental foundation for the self-regulatory functions executive functioningand effortful control (e.g., Garon, Bryson, & Smith, 2008; Rothbart, Derryberry, & Posner,1994). Our main aim was to test this hypothesis by studying whether sustained attentionat age 1 year can predict individual differences in self-regulatory functions at age 2 years.Longitudinal data from 66 infants and their parents were included in the study. Sustainedattention was assessed during free play at age 1 year; executive functioning, measured usingan eye-tracking version of the A-not-B task, and effortful control, measured using parentalratings, were assessed at both age 1 and age 2 years. The results did support a longitudinalprediction of individual differences in 2-year-olds’ self-regulatory functions as a function ofsustained attention at age 1 year. We also found significant improvement in both executivefunctioning and effortful control over time, and the two self-regulatory constructs wererelated in toddlerhood but not in infancy. The study helps increase our understanding ofthe early development of self-regulatory functions necessary for identifying developmentalrisks and, in the future, for developing new interventions.

Keyword
Attention, Self-regulation, Executive functioning, Effortful control, Infancy
National Category
Social Sciences
Research subject
Psychology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-263508 (URN)10.1016/j.infbeh.2015.07.001 (DOI)000365375100001 ()26241679 (PubMedID)
Available from: 2015-10-01 Created: 2015-10-01 Last updated: 2017-12-01Bibliographically approved
3. Individual differences in early executive functions: A longitudinal study from 12 to 36 months
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Individual differences in early executive functions: A longitudinal study from 12 to 36 months
2016 (English)In: Infant and Child Development, ISSN 1522-7227, E-ISSN 1522-7219, Vol. 25, no 6, 533-549 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

It has been proposed that executive functions develop in a hierarchical fashion, such that early, simple abilities seen already during the first year of life become increasingly coordinated with development, thereby enabling the emergence of more complex abilities. Although this hierarchical model has received support from empirical studies comparing executive function task performance across age groups, necessary support from longitudinal studies taking an individual differences perspective on development is missing. In addition, the model stresses the importance of attention in executive function development, but we do not know in what way attention contributes to the continued development once the earliest forms of simple functions have emerged. Using a longitudinal design, the present study investigated the relations between individual differences in simpler forms of executive functions as well as sustained attention at age 12months and more complex executive functions at 24 and 36months. The results indicated partial support for the hierarchical model, with infant inhibition being predictive of working memory in toddlerhood. In addition, at 12months, sustained attention contributed to the development of toddler executive functions via the simple executive functions. This suggests that by this age, sustained attention has become an integrated part of early, simple executive functions.

Keyword
Executive functions, Sustained attention, Infancy, Hierarchical development
National Category
Social Sciences
Research subject
Psychology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-263509 (URN)10.1002/icd.1952 (DOI)000389953800005 ()
Available from: 2015-10-01 Created: 2015-10-01 Last updated: 2017-12-01Bibliographically approved

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