Executive functioning as a predictor of children's mathematics ability: inhibition, switching, and working memory

Dev Neuropsychol. 2001;19(3):273-93. doi: 10.1207/S15326942DN1903_3.


Children's mathematical skills were considered in relation to executive functions. Using multiple measures--including the Wisconsin Card Sorting Task (WCST), dual-task performance, Stroop task, and counting span-it was found that mathematical ability was significantly correlated with all measures of executive functioning, with the exception of dual-task performance. Furthermore, regression analyses revealed that each executive function measure predicted unique variance in mathematics ability. These results are discussed in terms of a central executive with diverse functions (Shallice & Burgess, 1996) and with recent evidence from Miyake, et al. (2000) showing the unity and diversity among executive functions. It is proposed that the particular difficulties for children of lower mathematical ability are lack of inhibition and poor working memory, which result in problems with switching and evaluation of new strategies for dealing with a particular task. The practical and theoretical implications of these results are discussed, along with suggestions for task changes and longitudinal studies that would clarify theoretical and developmental issues related to executive functioning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Male
  • Mathematics*
  • Memory / physiology*