Evidence for a relation between executive function and pretense representation in preschool children

Cogn Dev. 2014 Jan;29:10.1016/j.cogdev.2013.09.001. doi: 10.1016/j.cogdev.2013.09.001.


Several theoretical formulations suggest a relation between children's pretense and executive function (EF) skills. However, there is little empirical evidence for a correlation between these constructs in early development. Preschool children (N = 104; M age = 4-0) were given batteries of EF and pretense representation measures, as well as verbal, memory, and appearance-reality control tasks. Confirmatory factor analysis revealed two separable but overlapping aspects of EF (Conflict and Delay). EF was significantly related to pretense after accounting for all controls. Understanding the pretend-reality distinction was strongly related to Conflict EF, whereas performing pretend actions was more strongly related to Delay EF. These results, although correlational, are consistent with the claim that EF skills are implicated in pretense, such as inhibiting reality and flexibly manipulating dual representations, and offer a potential mechanism by which pretend play interventions may enhance childhood EF.

Keywords: Executive function; inhibitory control; pretense; representation.