Research Topic

Training and Enhancing Executive Function

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Executive Function (EF) refers to a complex set of cognitive, metacognitive and emotional control processes necessary for adaptive functioning in daily life. EFs are predictive of intellectual achievement, health, wealth, and quality of life across the life span, often more so than IQ or socioeconomic status. ...

Executive Function (EF) refers to a complex set of cognitive, metacognitive and emotional control processes necessary for adaptive functioning in daily life. EFs are predictive of intellectual achievement, health, wealth, and quality of life across the life span, often more so than IQ or socioeconomic status. Evidence suggests that EFs can be distinguished into three core capacities (working memory, inhibition, shifting), which combine to support higher-order cognitive processing (e.g., planning, problem solving) required to remain goal-directed, resist contrary impulses and distractions, and pursue more-positive (rather than most-immediate) outcomes. Given this foundational importance, there has been increasing interest in improving EFs. The goals of these researches have been twofold: improve the trained EFs; and, as a consequence, stimulate generalized improvements to other cognitive and life domains.

One prevalent approach to improving EFs is computerized ‘brain training’, in which participants engage in tasks that increase in EF challenge. While the evidence based on this approach is expansive, and shows improvements in trained and similar tasks, there is less evidence that improvements transfer to outcomes related to EF. Other approaches seek to combine physical activity with EF challenge, although results are similarly mixed and the conditions under which physical activity might achieve EF gains remains unclear. Other emerging approaches include curricular approaches, embedding EF challenge within routine activities, and mindfulness training.

Other EF research has focused on neurodevelopmental disorders, such as ADHD, Autism and related Theory of Mind issues, Learning Disabilities, language impairments or Mild Intellectual Disabilities, although how EF intervention approaches should differ across these groups is unclear.

Research has also highlighted questions around age (e.g., is early intervention more effective given brain plasticity, or are later-developing abilities such as metacognition needed for improving EF?), motivation (e.g., are EF improvements mediated by motivational factors, and which motivational factors are likely to improve outcomes?), and duration and dose of intervention (e.g., is there a linear relation between intervention dose and participant outcomes or, if not, what dose optimizes EF improvements?)

Given the potential that EFs continue to show for shifting a broad range of developmental trajectories, this research topic aims to collect emerging, innovative and important research on EF training with children and adolescents, to begin to respond to these questions and imperatives – namely:
• Which approaches are effective and for which cultural contexts, what outcomes are they effective for improving, and what is the comparative efficacy of these approaches?
• Under which conditions are approaches effective, and what are the mechanisms underpinning their efficacy?
• Who is each approach to EF training most efficacious for, and does this across developmental sub- groups?
• In what way(s) do timing, individual factors, and content-free characteristics of EF interventions influence their efficacy?
Original research and meta-analyses will be considered for possible publication.


Keywords: Executive Function, Training, Rehabilitation, Cognitive Control, Metacognition


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