Executive functions and achievements in school: Shifting, updating, inhibition, and working memory

Q J Exp Psychol (Hove). 2006 Apr;59(4):745-59. doi: 10.1080/17470210500162854.


Links have recently been established between measures of educational attainment and both verbal and visuo-spatial aspects of working memory. Relationships have also been identified between specific executive functions-shifting, updating, and inhibition-and scholastic achievement. In the present study, scholastic attainment, shifting, updating, inhibition, and verbal and visuo-spatial working memory were assessed in 11- and 12-year-old children. Exploratory factor analysis identified two executive factors: one associated with updating functions and one associated with inhibition. Updating abilities were closely linked with performance on both verbal and visuo-spatial working memory span tasks. Working memory was closely linked with attainment in English and mathematics, and inhibition was associated with achievement in English, mathematics, and science. Domain-specific associations existed between verbal working memory and attainment in English, and between visuo-spatial working memory and attainment in English, mathematics and science. Implications of the findings for the theoretical analysis of executive functioning, working memory and children's learning are discussed.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Educational Status*
  • Factor Analysis, Statistical
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests / statistics & numerical data
  • Paired-Associate Learning / physiology
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Problem Solving / physiology*