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Review
. 2013;64:135-68.
doi: 10.1146/annurev-psych-113011-143750. Epub 2012 Sep 27.

Executive Functions

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Free PMC article
Review

Executive Functions

Adele Diamond. Annu Rev Psychol. .
Free PMC article

Abstract

Executive functions (EFs) make possible mentally playing with ideas; taking the time to think before acting; meeting novel, unanticipated challenges; resisting temptations; and staying focused. Core EFs are inhibition [response inhibition (self-control--resisting temptations and resisting acting impulsively) and interference control (selective attention and cognitive inhibition)], working memory, and cognitive flexibility (including creatively thinking "outside the box," seeing anything from different perspectives, and quickly and flexibly adapting to changed circumstances). The developmental progression and representative measures of each are discussed. Controversies are addressed (e.g., the relation between EFs and fluid intelligence, self-regulation, executive attention, and effortful control, and the relation between working memory and inhibition and attention). The importance of social, emotional, and physical health for cognitive health is discussed because stress, lack of sleep, loneliness, or lack of exercise each impair EFs. That EFs are trainable and can be improved with practice is addressed, including diverse methods tried thus far.

Figures

Figure 1
Figure 1
Passive-dissipation model showing how delay can improve performance on inhibitory tasks (from Simpson et al. 2011).
Figure 2
Figure 2
At every age studied, children were slower and less accurate on the congruent block than on the incongruent block. That effect is completely absent in adults, who are as fast and as accurate on the incongruent block as on the congruent one. The memory demands of those two blocks were the same; they differ only in that the incongruent block requires inhibitory control and the congruent block does not (based on Davidson et al. 2006; this is now called Hearts and Flowers.).
Figure 3
Figure 3
Comparison of the mixed conditions of the Dots (now called Hearts and Flowers) and Simon tasks in percentage of correct responses (based on Davidson et al. 2006).
Figure 4
Figure 4
Executive functions and related terms.

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